Issue 178 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review

Pedigree of a pitbull

Yobbo with a quiff
Yobbo with a quiff

Michael Portillo has spent the August 'silly season' trying to attract media attention. The media have complied and a great deal has been written about him--not all of it entirely complimentary. But the political commentators have missed the obvious points: Portillo is a vicious and pigheaded bigot with no special talents apart from self promotion. The fact that sections of the Tory Party are looking to him as a potential leader and saviour is just one more indication of how desperate they are.

His much heralded political judgement has a poor pedigree. He was one of the last and most enthusiastic defenders of the poll tax--which he thought was a vote winner--and of its instigator, Margaret Thatcher. He was among a group of Thatcherites who went to Downing Street the night before she resigned to beg her to stay.

Everyone can agree on his arrogance. The man who preaches that 'all of us were brought up to value modesty' even believes that his strange quiff like hairdo is 'generally regarded as a success'.

Friends and admirers are organising a modest little bash in Alexandra Palace in December to 'celebrate' his first ten years in parliament. It is going to be a 'surprise party' which is presumably why it has been featured in August editions of every national daily paper.

But some journalists still insist on pushing the 'Portillo-man of intellect and vision' myth. 'You might not like him,' they tell us, 'but he has principles and he knows where he's going.'

What are his so called principles?

His first principle is to be very tight-fisted, especially towards the needy. He particularly wants to withhold money from the 'undeserving poor... the feckless... and the profligate.' One of the first things he did on getting a job at the DHSS was to scrap social fund payments which bought furniture for the very poor.

His second principle is to justify such cutbacks with all sorts of reheated Thatcherite claptrap about foreigners and layabouts, and then claim his is the voice of the 'man in the street':

His third principle is to defend democracy by not tolerating dissent. 'We must temper our traditional tolerance when confronted with those whose stock in trade is to belittle and so undermine the fabric of our society.' His 'traditional tolerance' was on public display in 1983 in Birmingham when he wound up his parliamentary election campaign by driving round the constituency with a PA announcing, 'I believe in a return to hanging'. He managed to temper his tolerance again more recently by voting against equal rights for gays in the Age of Consent debate.

Exactly how the reintroduction of hanging and interfering with young people's sex lives squares with his fourth principle--cutting back state power--is unclear. 'The government is the servant of the people--not the other way round... In societies where the state does too much, people lose the will and even the ability to do things themselves.'

But then, like all Tories, Portillo clings dearly to one last principle--the politician's right to contradict himself shamelessly:

Portillo's most ludicrous claim is that his is the 'real voice of the people'. His back to basics routine might raise a round of applause at the Carlton Club, but the 'quiet majority' have a rather firmer grip on reality, as some of his words of wisdom demonstrate.

On Parliament:
On royalty:
On welfare:
On other countries:
On the economy:

Yes Mr Portillo. As even his right wing and normally cringing Cambridge professor said, 'A hard, practical intelligence. Not an intellectual.'
Chris Nineham

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