Sir! Did You Swallow?
Heir-apparent to the Tory Party ups the ante on scandal

President Clinton claims he didn't inhale marijuana, but he did smoke it, at Oxford. We don't know whether Michael Portillo swallowed at Cambridge, but we know he did suck dick. How do we know this? Because the man who would be king, or at least the leader of England's second-best political party, has outed himself in the world's strangest bid for power.

See also...
... by Damian Barr
... in the Scope section
... from October 7, 1999

Can you elect a man who admits the sins of his youth? That's the issue torturing the residents of Kensington and Chelsea, probably England's poshest constituency, as they prepare for what may well prove to be a seminal by-election -- that's when a seat in the Commons falls empty, and a new member has to step forward to fill it. Seeking to reinsert himself into the Houses of Parliament via the back door, Michael Portillo seems almost New Labour in his sexual predilections, and Kensington doesn't know how to take it.

Just one month ago, Portillo was a perfectly poised dandy of some standing in the Tory Party, having served as Defence Minister under the last Tory government. In that term he successfully kept homosexuals out of the forces, though the happily-married man found himself dogged by certain rumors. As it turns out, the rumors would bear more fruit than his wife. As a pre-emptive strike, Portillo was led to wince from his doorstep: "I had some homosexual experiences as a young person."

And suddenly the upcoming ballot became a bi-election. Those who supported Portillo's vote to keep the military pure of heart are rushed to forgive -- even bless -- his pink-tinged past. Bridge Clubs cancelled meetings, nannies were drafted, and sherry-sipping nouveau fag-hags, looking every inch like Quentin Crisp in a blue rinse, swooped in to gush their secret passion for the sensitive Mr. Portillo.

This outbreak of pseudo-tolerance was eloquently echoed by the confession of grand old High Tory, Peregrine Worsthorne, writing under the headline "Why Gay Sex was Good for Me." Why indeed? Because it was raunchy, hard, and eye-popping? No, Worsthorne fucked men in the days of all-male colleges when "it was boys or nothing." For Worsthorne, short brutal encounters with men bypassed intercourse with hysterical pregnancy-prone females, leaving just enough time for poetry:

"Homosexual relations are so much less time-consuming, so much less mind-blowing, than heterosexual passion. As a result of those bleak homosexual practices, instinctual lusts were satisfied relatively quickly, got out of the way -- no lying around in bed -- leaving so much more time and energy for what university life is so ideally suited for -- the forging of intimate friendships based on intellectual and spiritual affinities which bring the participants pleasure rather than trouble for the rest of their lives."

Portillo's revelations were calculated to inflict damage on the leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, two weeks before the party conference. The balding, fetal Hague has tried to recast himself as a bon vivant and a judo master -- to no avail. Portillo's message is better gay (but much better now) than straight and sad.

Meanwhile, the wife seemingly sewn onto Portillo's arm has silenced the cynics who pondered their barren union by outing herself as being not a full woman -- she's infertile. And of course, Portillo's all right now. "I want to make it perfectly clear nothing of this sort happened all the time I have been in public office."

Sure. "It" only happened in the office some of the time, and the rest of the time he was in his boyfriend's flat. Ex-boyfriend Nigel Hart found out the hard way that Tory loyalty is a one-way street. With no advance warning from Portillo, one morning he discovered "half the London press" camped out on his doorstep. Naturally, he immediately spilled the beans about "our half-dozen years of (highly intermittent) sex."

In response, no less a figure than George Michael stepped up to voice his "disgust" at Portillo's "half-truths," announcing that "I think anyone who has supported differing ages of consent for men and women when it is very obvious that he was having sex with men when he was a young man is a complete hypocrite." Well said, George, but where was that savage honesty during the '80s?

In light of his ever-so-slightly incomplete confession, Portillo's instant popularity is beginning to wane. His decline in the polls shows that, even in this day and age, there can still be such a thing as bad publicity.

Damian Barr hopes to stumble on some Renaissance intrigue in Venice (possibly involving Angela Lansbury).