Many Tories could suffer same fate as me in 1997, says Michael Portillo

Michael Portillo losing his seat to Labour's Stephen Twigg in 1997
Michael Portillo losing his seat to Labour's Stephen Twigg in 1997 - REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

Michael Portillo has warned many Tory candidates could “suffer the same fate” on July 4 as he did in 1997 as voters switch off from the Conservative Party.

‌The so-called “Portillo moment” was one of the defining points of the 1997 general election as the Tory cabinet minister was ousted by Labour, signalling that Sir Tony Blair was heading for a landslide victory.

‌Speaking to GB News on Tuesday night, Mr Portillo said the Conservatives have faced an “uphill battle” ever since Rishi Sunak triggered the contest in May, and now risk putting voters off completely with their “confused” campaign messaging.

‌The former Tory MP, now a TV presenter, said: “It seems that many Conservative incumbents could suffer the same fate [as he did in 1997].

‌“They know already that over the last five years of Tory government people have ceased to listen to what their party has to say.

‌“I rather assume that whilst half the party talks of winning and the other half warns of an upcoming Labour super-majority, the voters will shut their ears to both.”

‌It comes after Best for Britain, the anti-Tory campaign group, warned the Conservatives face five potential “Portillo moments” if people vote tactically at the general election.

Based on the most up-to-date MRP polling, the organisation predicts that Tory big beasts Penny Mordaunt, Jeremy Hunt, Grant Shapps, James Cleverly and Robert Jenrick could lose their seats if voters club together to oust the Conservatives.

‌Mr Sunak, the Prime Minister; Liz Truss, his predecessor; and former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Dame Priti Patel were also listed as possible casualties.

‌Mr Portillo accused the Conservatives of making their campaign “about themselves”, rather than focusing on Labour’s plans.

‌“For the Tories, ever since the soggy election announcement by the bedraggled Prime Minister in Downing Street, it’s been an uphill battle,” he said.

‌“Given Labour’s lead in the polls, perhaps it might have helped the Tories to focus on Sir Keir Starmer’s party, especially on what it’s going to do and how it’s going to pay for it.

‌“But the Conservatives seemingly can’t help but make the campaign about themselves, interrupting Labour whenever it’s making mistakes, and blurting out policy announcements.”

‌Last week, Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, caused a stir by warning voters not to hand Labour a “super-majority” on July 4, insisting it would be unwise to give Sir Keir “unchecked” power.

Campaign in a ‘muddle’

‌Mr Portillo said the campaign had been “confused” and in a “muddle”, making it hard for Tories to know where to invest their time and energy.

‌“Recently the Conservatives’ campaign has looked confused over whether they hope to win the election or whether their message to electors is that they should avoid giving Labour a super-majority,” he said.

‌“One result of this muddle is that the Conservatives will not know where to invest their campaigning efforts.

‌“Can they be seen to abandon seats that have traditionally been regarded as marginal but which may already be lost, to put resources into seats traditionally thought to be safe where the Conservative candidate is in fact now in mortal danger?”