Week ahead: Portillo facing testing weekend

Having seen how Gordon Brown began his career with a bang by handing control of interest rates to the Bank of England, the returned darling of the right appears determined to match him.

He has performed a series of policy U-turns that have left both opponents and supporters stunned.

He started by using his first Treasury questions to unexpectedly back the new independence of the Bank of England and its Monetary Policy Committee.

Then he turned years of Conservative policy on its head by saying a future Tory government would not scrap the minimum wage.

And while his leader William Hague was not looking, he was next caught undermining the party’s tax guarantee.

Many people think this pledge to cut taxes as a proportion of national income come what may, was inflexible and a recipe for embarrassment or disaster.

Hague did not seem pleased and soon afterwards was restating the tax guarantee he had cooked up with Portillo’s lackluster predecessor Fancis Maude. Portillo merely smiled enigmatically.

Then there was the little wobble on the euro when one day the new MP for Kensington and Chelsea was apparently watering down Tory opposition to the single currency and not long afterwards was adopting an even more absolutist policy than his leader.

Last week’s Budget gave him more scope to demonstrate his independence from Hague.

Opposition leaders’ initial response to the financial package was to attack it as profligate and ‘smoke and mirrors’.

But Portillo soon endorsed the extra public spending on the National Health Service and schools.

His supporters say he is pragmatically clearing the Tory party decks of unneccesary ideological baggage.

Hague’s insiders hope that by giving Portillo plenty of rope, the natural arrogance of a man who believes he is the next Tory Prime Minister will lead him to hang himself.

The reception Portillo receives at the spring conference will show on which side of that divide the Tory rank and file stand .

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