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Remember, Portillo's biggest educational influence was - and presumably still is - the noted Peterhouse historian Maurice Cowling, whose famous works were centred on how politics is principally about the pursuit of power by individual politicians at the top. However, whilst Cowling himself did not necessarily practice what he preached (viz. internal college politics, which Cowling was notoriously poor at handling as a result of his own ideological principles) Portillo took it as a handbook.

Portillo parodies even this somewhat cynical view, and his re-invention between 1997 and 1999 strained credulity. His history has been one of continual plotting: who can forget the installation of the phone lines when it looked as though Major would fall? Likewise, his pre-1997 posturing was designed to contrive a 1997 leadership bid, which he could easily have won. Post-1997, he rapidly appreciated that his ambitions would be best served by committing the extraordinary volte-face that he did.

Ironically, Portillo made his ambition so transparent that it was one of the key factors that led to his defeat as MPs voted for anyone - even tactically voting for Clarke - to keep him away from the reins. Those who are aggrieved at Cameron's march towards the centre should thank Heavens that this man did not win the leadership in 2001.

The voyages of Portillo seem to show just how much he looks to those around him for approbation and support. From Cowlings study he was introduced into the intellectual group surrounding the Thatcher/Reagan courts - result his views moved to gain their approval.

Then in 1997 he suffered a personal and political hurt - imagine hearing the cheers and partying for your defeat. Then he moved into a career in the media and found he had to create a new persona to gain their acclaim.

He seems to be confusing the 9 year voyage he has made to the new Portillo to gain support with what his (ex?) party needs to do to regain the country.

Cameron doesn't have to fight much of an entenched interest in changing his party - he was elected with the memberships strong support, the membership, while varied, aren't driven by failed ideologies as were the Foot/Bennite & Trade unionists. He starts off with the perception he's a nice man, facing personal and political challenges but he's a normal guy - Portillo has always been seen as slightly odd.

I did enjoy Newsnight. Tim performed well however he showed his intellectual shortcomings when compared to Green, Philips and Letwin.

I disagree John - I think Tim proved he has a very keen intellect!

Great job Tim - you were clear and concise, and most persuasive.

Oh come now! As much as we respect our Editor it can hardly be described as a heavyweight performance. I think he was punching above his weight, but with practice......who knows?

Letwin performed very poorly. I cringed. It was surprising that Kirsty Wark did not mention his recent comment that he would rather beg in the streets than send his choldren to a comprehensive. There is nothing more nauseating than Old Etonians lecturing the public on how to improve the very state education that they despise and would not use.

At least the editor stood up for conservative values!

I agree with you Selsdon about Letwin.His style of answering questions is very considered and when Kirsty Wark was hurrying him along he became flustered.His answers on education were also weak in my opinion.
So they've finally let you come back John Coulson? Instead of attacking the Editor why don't you say something intelligent for a change?

I think the editor showed that intellect is not determined by the length of words used or adherence to unchanging dogma. Tim put the case for practical conservatism in the real world of democratic politics better than Philips or Green. Letwin is clearly from a completely different planet.

I thought it was a one-sided affair,as expected from the BBC. As soon as I saw Melanie Phillips, I knew we were in for a bit of Cameron bashing and so it proved. The master stroke was to drag in the hapless Letwin in to defend his boss.

"His answers on education were also weak in my opinion."

Letwin set too many bear traps for himself, and a better interviewer (say one who actually pronounce the interviewee's names) could easily have sprung them on him. Trying to dodge the grammar school question by talking about increasing setting doesn't cut it, as John Clare showed last week.

In general, I think Letwin is a liability in front of the media.

Sorry, John, but Tim did a fine job and competed on intellect (like I can judge!) very well. The contrast between him and the reactionary Phillips and the "bloody annoyed at being ignored" Green was perfect. Phillips was terrible and just a female version of the Doom and Gloom Heffer.
The difference between Tim and Phillips is that he has ideas and she just commentates on them. Intellect is just as much about finding the right way to communicate your idea as it is having the idea in the first place. Well done Tim and more especially so since he was not in the studio with the others. Always harder when you are remote.

Leftwing is a liability - period. He is only a part-time member of the shadow cabinet. He has his £300k a year from Rothschilds to pay the school fees.

Well done Tim, Melanie and the man from Civitas. I had to drag myself away from Big Brother to see you but it was worth it. I am afraid I cannot say the same for Mr Letwin though.

Our senior spokesmen need to be better trained. The simple bits of being an effective speaker; listen, learn to talk in simple terms, re-inforce message they want heard.

More importantly prepare well - its the BBC so you have a good idea how and what they will quiz you on. If you know Portillo, Melanie Phillips etc are on then get briefed on what their pet theories of the day are.

And don't go on programmes (Today for example) to attack the Govt without being prepared to say what you'd do differently. Wasted good opportunity yesterday morning on Today discussing St Barts and possible £100m thrown away by being distracted into discussion on whether we'd spend £1.5bn or not - point was the incompetence of the govt over 4 years and ther inability to make decisions or sign contracts that protected the tax payer.

DC 'beat' Paxman by preparing well, not being sidetracked, responding and tking the initiative. Letwin always sounds like he's in a sebior common room discussion.

BTW I thought Tim was prepared and clear - perhaps he could arrange to give a few lessons....

In any walk of life, Ted, good preparation is 90% of the battle.

Why so much Letwin bashing? You dont go on Newsnight to get a free run, just to be on the defensive. Someone has to do it - anyone feel like volunteering?

"Why so much Letwin bashing?"

Because he's consistently useless with the media?

I have been interviewed on Newsnight (once by Peter Snow and three times by Paxman) so I can comment from experience. Letwin under-performed. Conservatives are entitled to expect better from a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet.

Am American (Republican) friend of mine once said that Oliver Letwin is a delightful and clever man whom the Republicans would use to run a top-rate think tank but who would be kept well away from the public eye. Every time I see him on TV, it is hard to disagree.

I was not sorry when Portillo lost his seat in 1997 and the more I see of him, the less impressed I am. He is a hugely ambitious man who loved office (handed to him on a plate) but who lacks the resilience and the ideological backbone to be a good opposition politician. His sniping at Davis and Hague in the paper last weekend was beneath contempt.

To be honest, I think the voters of Enfield Southgate had the measure of the man. Even by the standards of 1997, to lose a majority of 34% in 1992 was pretty remarkable.

I also saw a Sunday Times article in which he described the Conservative Parliamentary Party as being filled with people whom the electorate found repellent.

Following his departure from the Commons, there is at least one fewer now.

Without meaning any disrespect to anyone who posts here, Letwin is probably brighter than any of us. The problem is that he's one of those really bright people who's completely inarticulate.

agree completely. Like many bright men he has a certain innocence about public discussion - he forgets the interviwer isn't interested in the subject but in scoring points.
Shame Robin Cook isn't still around to show how to be both intellectually sharp and manage an opposition brief. He might not have been the most personable guy but he knew how to manage an interview.

Oliver may be an intellectual but I am struggling to think of a memorable policy that he has developed.

do intellectuals develop policies? They work better at expounding the general philosophies and directing policy development by the more practical and less intellectually distracted among us.

Well done Tim. You conducted yourself extremely welll on last nights Newsnight.

I do not agree with Michael Portillo view that we must pick a fight for the sake of it with what he calls the right.

At the end of the day we are all Conservatives. If we all pull in the same direction we will win through. Just look at the Stephen Harpers Conservatives in Canada for inspriation.

Tim, can you gives us your view on how the Canadian Conservatives went from zero to hero in a few years.

Portillo is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

As Ted says about Cameron, "He starts off with the perception he's a nice man".

He is someone that many people will be able to agree to disagree. He is also I am sure far too astute to follow the Portillo doctrine.

....Let us bring conflict where there is peace...

From what I hear Nelson the rise of the Canadian conservatives has more to do with Liberal party corruption than anything else.
Compared to that bunch of crooks Blair,Levy,Mandleson,Cambpell etc seem (almost) honest!

Good Stuff Tim. Good, pratical, CONSTRUCTIVE input.

John Coulson can stay so long as his comments aren't too inflammatory - criticising the Ed doesn't quite count unfortunately!

Yes I thought Tim did well especially getting the AND theory in within about 4 seconds.

Despite being a former Portillo fan I don't think Cameron needs a fight, only fools go looking for them.

Those of you who think that Oliver Letwin is inarticulate, or bad on the media, or left wing, must be high.

Totally agree Tom. Letwin comes across as intelligent and, far more importantly, sincere. His response to the comment about 'calculation' and voting for UKIP was perfect. This is not a calculation. They are looking at what is best for the country, not at political positioning.

I stayed up late to watch it and it did not disappoint.

Sorry but I cant understand either of you! Letwin was rambling, incoherent and came across insincere. He simply looked like an old tory boy trying to 'look caring' for political gain. I watched the program with my flatmate, who is very unpolitical, he noted that 'that guy doesnt look like he believes a word he is saying'. Letwin was truly pathetic.

This is an extremely poor editorial, I've been a fan of portillo for a long time, he's one of those more clever politicians who use their intelligence to gain an advantage rather than people who are too stuck in their principals to be of any benifit to the party and the nation.

In general I'd prefer a politician who sticks to his principles than one who's just out to gain an advantage.

Portillo's comments about his former colleagues are simply obnoxious.

"he's one of those more clever politicians who use their intelligence to gain an advantage"

An advantage like losing Putney in '97 on a massive - and very personally motivated - swing? Or an advantage like being a lacklustre Shadow Chancellor? Or an advantage like losing a leadership campaign in which he was the favourite?


It was Southgate, James. Putney was lost by the equally unpleasant Mellor.

Portillo had almost the worst result of any Conservative candidate in 1997.

"It was Southgate, James. Putney was lost by the equally unpleasant Mellor"

I'm getting my odious Major-era politicians muddled! Needless to say, both lost seats we never should have lost on large swings, which were heavily motivated by personal antipathy.

I wonder whether David Cameron is happy about the Machiavellian articles Portillo is writing in praise of him. I wouldn't have thought so. If David Cameron's "tactic" is to present himself as a nice moderate at the expense of the foamy-mouthed right, then Portillo isn't doing him any favours by giving the game away (and showing Cameron to be an unprincipled whore rather than a moderate).

I think Portillo wants people to see Cameron as the embodiment of his own personal philosophy (whether this is or isn't true). He wants Cameron to be a vindication for himself (at the expense of those he begrudges within the party).

Funnily enough, I also think he wants people to see him as Cameron's John the Baptist, the man who led the way for radical "modernisation".

The problem is that there is nothing visionary about the ditching of principles you still believe in and know would work best (and it's not as if Michael Portillo has *really* had a political conversion and now seens things differently; he doesn't even believe in the principles he wants Cameron to espouse).

A visionary leader sets out a brave, radical agenda which he knows the country badly needs. He doesn't just cravenly concede all ground to his opponents for the sake of short-term gain (power for power's sake). Even if it you do achieve power -- what then? Where's your legacy?

Imagine for a moment that David Cameron were to go down in history as the man who finally sorted out our failing NHS. That would be something to be proud of. That would be a legacy.

But if we are to take Cameron at his word, that's already been ruled out.

Cameron just seems to want to be prime minister. He seems to have no real ambition beyond that. Where's his vision?

Portillo sees everything in power-political terms because he doesn't really care about the future of this country. He's stupid, childish and myopic.

As someone who belongs to the 'other' wing of the Party, I though Tim Montgomerie did well. He came across as thoughtful and constructive. I could see the Beeb's game when Newsnight started. The lefties wanted three people from the tradional wing of the Party to pour scorn on Cameron's liberal agenda. But it didn't work - even Melanie Phillips was behaved (thank goodness they forgot to ask Heffer). I know that Oliver Letwin is an academic but he has never really had any media skills.

BTW, does anyone know if Portillo is actually a Party member theses days?

"BTW, does anyone know if Portillo is actually a Party member theses days?"

Yes he still is. He voted in the leadership election.

"thank goodness they forgot to ask Heffer"

Why does the Heffersaurus never appear on the television? Even Hitchens is let loose on Question Time occasionally...

it's bad enough being surprised by his voice on the Telegraph podcast without him popping up on screen!
Is he a member I wonder?

"Why does the Heffersaurus never appear on the television? Even Hitchens is let loose on Question Time occasionally..."

Hey, Daniel, you never know: he might be shy.

I thought Newsnight was good for the party last night. It showed that we disagree with been bitter and twisted towards each other. I expected much worse from Melanie Phillips, but she was quite restrained last night. Notice how she had her arms folded across her lap all the time.

Tim did well and got the And theory in quite quickly! Letwin is too clever by half and needs to get out into the real world a bit more.

I've just heard on Radio 4 that Portillo is to join the regular panel on the Moral Maze.

Being too much near Diane Abbott produces those effects.

I always thought (and still do) that Portillo was the best leader we never had. Though I am certain that others will disagree with my views, I believe that had the Conservative party made him leader in 2001, we might very well be in power now. He was very charismatic and good with the media. I expect that some of the things he says and writes now are due in part to bitterness from being rejected by the party.

I find Portillo's dislike of the party's right wing to be rather excessive. He clearly forgets that many of them came form a generation that did more to fight for freedom than he has ever done. Their only crime in his eye is to want to hang onto the values they were brought up with in a Britain before political correctness and EU bureaucracy.

We can accept that, like it or not, Britain has changed. Yet that is no reason to pour scorn on those who object to those changes.

"I've just heard on Radio 4 that Portillo is to join the regular panel on the Moral Maze."

That's a joke - let's face it, Michael Portillo is a man whose only conception of loyalty is how the Chinese would describe the Queen and her family.

"He was very charismatic and good with the media."

ISTR that when opinion polls were conducted on who should replace Hague, our ratings actually fell sharply under the notional Portillo leadership...

"I expect that some of the things he says and writes now are due in part to bitterness from being rejected by the party."

I'd agree. His reactions are more psychological than political in origin.

"There are all sorts of things that could be mentioned from last night's discussion but I was struck by the extent to which Michael Portillo seems to almost despise the right".
Why be surprised, Editor? Isn't Portillo now a permanent fixture at the BBC? Would the BBC management give so much airtime to Portillo if it believed he was still a conservative? I think that you will find Mr Portillo believes that his future is with the BBC WHICH IS WHERE HE BELONGS.

Portillo has, like so many politicians of both sides (Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock) believed in one thing only - personal ambition. He tried to use, and failed, his chosen party as a vehicle for achieving it. Had he been returned in 1997, he would probably have been leader. Though it is hard to see how we could have fared worse, I still feel that we would have. The man is devoid of principle. He was in the wrong place at the right time - he would have been a better success in the Labour Party, much like Ken Clarke.

It is good to see free speech is alive and well in the Party of freedom of the individual within a free society. Let us spend less time knocking our friends. Stay silent or better be subtle and damn with faint praise.
Surely the purpose of education is to develop our intellectuals. Otherwise why educate?

Probably, in a minority but I find Portillo a more attractive character now than when he was going through his 'Who Dares Wins' phase.
Some of what he writes in the STimes is perceptive although I could do without him calling former colleagues reactionary.
The remark about Ken Clarke was uncalled for Jon,unlike you he has never campaigned for the Labour Party!

The comments in his last Sunday Times article are not a one-off. He is regularly abusive about his former colleagues.

I presume that as a result of his failed leadership plots he is equally as unpopular with his colleagues as they appear to be with him.
I watched him on the rather strange programme on Spanish wildlife he did last night - couldn't work out why it had been made. He wasn't particularly informative on the wildlife, didn't have seem to have real interest in it, and there seemed uncertainty on the message the program was trying to deliver. Was it a vanity project, was it trying to say the Spanish aren't the donkey beating fiesta types portrayed in the red tops? why was it in the schedules?

And he was not that good in front of the camera. As he made another ungainly stoop towards the lens I wondered if the camerman also disliked him .

I agree that Portillo is totally untrustworthy and I have always thought so, He was disloyal to Mrs Thatcher and cannot be trusted.

Letwin is another person one instinctively dislikes. His showing on the TV the other night was very poor.

Fortunately David Cameron can rise above the blunderings of Letwin and he does not have to bother himself with the treacherous Portillo.

Sadly I wish to mention that following my recent message of support for David Cameron I have received unpleasant and abusive messages from Malcolm Dunn who I believe posts messages here.

David Cameron is bigger than you Mr Dunn. Your ungentlemanly behaviour will get you nowhere.

Exactly what 'message of support' did you post Guardsman?Perhaps you would like to repeat it.

No answer!What a suprise.

I'm new to this site, but enjoy the debate. Guardsman, there are many accuations that one can make against Mr. Dunn, but 'ungentlemanly' is not one that has any substance. I have known him for over 30 years, and can assure you of that. Lets try and keep this about the policies - personal insults are not a valid or worthwhile exercise.

Still no response from 'Guardsman',I wonder why?
Thank you Jon White,the cheque as they say is in the post!

As a "floating voter" I thought Michael Portillo was the best leader the Tories never had. I follow politics and current affairs quite closely and have voted both Labour and Conservative in the past. Don't get me wrong, Portillo like most prominent politicians, was nakedly ambitious. But he seemed to be the only Tory after the 1997 general election to realise the scale of change needed in The Conservative Party in order for people like myself to ever give it consideration again. Doesn't anybody think it strange that modernisation, change, whatever you want to call it has only just begun? It's now 2007. For all his faults Portillo was in many respects on the money.

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