Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Portillo is mad"

I had a brief chat with Michael Portillo last week and I'm convinced he isn't mad. In fact, he seems to be about the only sane voice left in the Tory party.

Shortly after my meeting with the best leader the Tories never had, he went on the radio to accuse Iain Duncan Smith of surrounding himself with "yes-men", and who can blame him? IDS sacked some of the few people at Central Office with half a brain, and replaced one of them with a man who was chief whip for Dame Shirley Porter and, by all accounts, is even more right wing than IDS himself. Who cares about Alan Milburn plotting against Gordon Brown and Tony Blair losing all Labour Party support when the Tories are falling apart before our eyes?

Portillo says he has decided not to stand for the leadership himself, which explains why he launched his very own missile just as war is about to break out. He knows that it's too early for a leadership election, but he has cleverly ensured there will be one after the May elections. This is not the action of a madman.

Puerile and unworthy are the more diplomatic words the chief whip has used against Portillo, but even he knows that IDS is on his way out. The man to replace him is almost certainly Ken Clarke, and he has so far stayed silent. Clarke would probably be leader now if he hadn't gone for the pact with John Redwood and given the job on a plate to William Hague, but he still only got 39 per cent of the vote last time round, so certainly isn't a definite winner. Surely, though, the Tories couldn't elect yet another leader with no charisma - but David Davis is waiting in the wings and is still favourite with the bookies. If the Tories do replace IDS with Davis then it won't be Portillo who is mad, but the whole of the Tory party.

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