An extraordinary security gaffe by Tory party officials allowed their Kensington and Chelsea by-election candidate, Michael Portillo, to be grilled this morning for more than five minutes over his opposition to gay equality by queer rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
Throughout the by-election campaign, Mr. Portillo has been ring-fenced with security and minders to prevent Mr. Tatchell asking him questions about his support for legal discrimination against homosexuals.
Left alone to canvass voters outside High Street Kensington tube station this morning (Thursday, 25th November, at 7:45 a.m.), Mr. Portillo floundered hopelessly as he was questioned by Mr. Tatchell over his backing for the discriminatory age of consent, Section 28, and the ban on gays in the military.
“When he saw me, the blood drained from his face”, said Tatchell. “He looked bewildered, angry and lost. His eyes were casting around desperately in search of his minders, but they were nowhere to be seen.
“I walked over and offered to shake his hand”, said Tatchell. “He refused”.
Holding a placard with the words “Portillo enforced ban on gay soldiers”, Tatchell then quizzed Portillo: “If elected an MP, will you vote for an equal age of consent? Will you support the repeal of Section 28”.
Mr. Portillo refused to answer, saying to Tatchell: “You are a horrible little man. Go away.”
Mr. Portillo walked back and forth around the tube station foyer in a frantic bid to shake off Tatchell. “He was in a very agitated state, clearly furious that his minders had failed to keep me at bay”, said Tatchell.
In response to further questions from Tatchell, Mr. Portillo said he had “no regrets” over voting against gay equality when he was an MP, and he defended the dismissal of lesbians and gays from the armed forces during the period when he was Defence Secretary.
Mr. Portillo bragged to Tatchell: “You are too late to affect the poll. You cannot harm me. Go away!”
In the end it was Mr. Portillo who went away, cutting short his scheduled 45-minute canvassing session at High Street Kensington tube station.
When his minders arrived on the scene, Mr. Portillo was hastily escorted down a street at the side of the station, with Mr. Tatchell in hot pursuit, still asking him questions about his anti-gay voting record when he was an MP.
Mr. Tatchell was pushed and shoved aside by Tory minders, including Mr. Michael Morely, who has on three previous occasions during the by-election campaign manhandled Tatchell when he attempted to put questions to Mr. Portillo.
Ushering Mr. Portillo into a waiting car, the planned escape was blocked and delayed when Mr. Tatchell ran in front of the vehicle. Twice Tory officials had to jump out of the car and drag Mr. Tatchell out of the way, before Mr. Portillo sped off.