Michael Portillo: Biography highlights
A former Conservative Cabinet Minister and journalist, the Rt Hon. Michael Portillo is able to offer an insight into the political, economic and social factors which shape our society.
Full biography of Michael Portillo
An experienced politician with an interest in current affairs, The Right Honourable Michael Portillo is uniquely placed as a speaker to offer audiences his take on the latest developments both within the UK and at a global level. During his varied political career, Portillo has held roles including Secretary of State for Defence and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and has served as a Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and for Kensington and Chelsea. His abilities as a writer, speaker and journalist have made him a household name and since his retirement from politics he has presented numerous TV and radio shows and worked extensively as a columnist.
- Current Affairs Commentator
- Journalist and Broadcaster
- Former Conservative Cabinet Minister
- Former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Background / History
Born in North London in 1953 to a father who had come to Britain as a refugee at the end of the Spanish Civil War and a mother from Fife,
Michael attended Harrow County Grammar School and went on to Peterhouse, Cambridge where he gained a first class degree in History.
He joined the Conservative Research Department in 1976 where he spent three years. At the General Election in 1979 he was responsible for briefing Margaret Thatcher before her press conferences. For the next two years he was special adviser to the Secretary of State for Energy.
Michael took a brief hiatus from politics, working for Kerr McGee Oil (UK) Ltd from 1981 to 1983. In the 1983 election, he contested the Birmingham Perry Bar seat at the 1983 Election.
He returned to politics as a special adviser to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson and in December 1984 won the by-election in Enfield Southgate caused by the murder of Sir Anthony Berry MP in the Brighton bombing. Michael represented the seat for thirteen years but was defeated in the 1997 Election.
During his time in Government Portillo was a whip, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Social Security, the Minister of State for Transport, the Minister of State for Local Government and Inner Cities; and as a Cabinet Minister was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Employment, and Secretary of State for Defence. He was admitted to the Privy Council in 1992.
After his 1997 electoral defeat, Michael returned to Kerr McGee as an adviser. He also turned to journalism. He wrote about walking as a pilgrim on the Santiago Way, and working as a hospital porter. He had a weekly column in The Scotsman, a three-part series for Channel 4 about politics called ‘Portillo’s Progress’ and a programme in BBC2’s Great Railway Journeys series which was partly a biography of his late father.
Michael was re-elected to Parliament in a by-election in Kensington and Chelsea in November 1999 and was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer February 2000 – September 2001. Following the Conservatives’ election defeat in 2001, Michael unsuccessfully contested the leadership of the party and left the House of Commons in 2005.
Since then, he has made a number of television programmes for BBC2 as well as documentaries on the unburied bodies from the Spanish Civil War and on Guantanamo Bay.
In 2010 BBC Radio 4 carried his 3-part series “Democracy on Trial”. For BBC4 he has made several series of Dinner with Portillo, a discussion programme, and in 2008 The Lady’s not for Spurning (about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy). Since 2006 he has been on The Moral Maze team on BBC Radio 4. In 2003 he began the weekly political discussion programme This Week on BBC1 with fellow presenters Andrew Neil and Diane Abbott MP. He has made 100 programmes in the series Great British Railway Journeys and Great Continental Railway Journeys for BBC2. For six years he was a weekly columnist on The Sunday Times and was the theatre critic of The New Statesman between 2004 and 2006.
Knowledgeable and eloquent, Portillo is also a charismatic speaker whose approachability and use of humour allow him to engross, enlighten and inspire any audience, transcending political boundaries.
A high profile former Conservative politician, the Rt Hon Michael Portillo is a renowned expert on current affairs and the influence of political factors on society. He spent his early career working for a shipping company and the Conservative Research Department. In the late 1970s he briefed Margaret Thatcher in preparation for press conferences, before becoming a special advisor to the Secretary of State for Energy. Between 1981 and 1983, Portillo worked for Kerr McGee Oil Ltd, whilst still maintaining his passion for politics.
Portillo became a special advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1984 and then won the Enfield Southgate by-election, becoming MP for the area, a role in which he remained until 1997. During his career in government, he held a number of responsible and high profile roles including Assistant Government Whip, Minister of State for Local Government and Inner Cities and the Minister of State for Transport. He was the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Employment, as well as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Portillo spent the late 1990s on a sabbatical, during which time he focussed on a number of television shows and writing newspaper columns. He returned to politics in 1999, becoming MP for Kensington and Chelsea in a by-election. He was appointed Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in February 2000 and remained in the role until September 2001. Portillo remained in parliament until 2005, when he made the decision not to stand for re-election. Since then he has concentrated on his career in television, radio presenting, journalism and speaking.
Michael Portillo was born in Hertfordshire and attended Harrow County School for Boys, earning a scholarship to Peterhouse College at Cambridge University. He graduated from Cambridge with a first class degree in history.
Positions and honours
- Chairman – Arts Endowment Fund (2011 present)
- Presenter BBC Great British Railway Journeys (2010 present)
- Presenter – BBC ‘Death of a School Friend’ (2008)
- Presenter BBC The Science of Killing (2008)
- Presenter – BBC Radio 4 The Moral Maze (2006 present)
- Presenter – BBC The Natural World: Spanish Wildlife (2006)
- Columnist – The Sunday Times (2004 present)
- British chairman – British-Spanish Tertulias (2004 2008)
- Theatre critic – New Statesman (2004 – 2006)
- Presenter – BBC This Week (2003 present)
- Presenter BBC When Michael Portillo became a Single Mum (2003)
- Presenter BBC Dinner With Portillo (2002 2010)
- Presenter BBC Great Railway Journeys: From Granada to
- Salamanca (2002)
- Presenter BBC Art That Shook the World: Richard Wagner, the Ring Cycle (2002)
- Presenter BBC Great Britons: Elizabeth I (2002)
- Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (February 2000 – September 2001)
- Conservative MP Kensington and Chelsea (1999-2005)
- International Commission on Missing Persons (Yugoslavia) (1998 2012)
- Presenter – Channel 4 Portillo’s Progress (1998)
- Secretary of State for Defence (1995 1997)
- Secretary of State for Employment (1994 1995)
- Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992 1994)
- Appointed to Privy Council (1992)
- Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (1990 1992)
- Minister of state for Transport (1988 1990)
- Parly Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (1987 1988)
- Assistant Government Whip (1986 – 1987)
- Conservative MP Enfield Southgate (1984 1997)
- Special advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1983 1984)
- Special advisor to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1983)
- Special advisor to the Secretary of State for Energy (1979 1981)
- President DebRA (charity)
- Chairman – Sinfonia 21
- Board member – BAe Systems plc
Watch Michael in action
Michael's speaking topics
The Local Governments
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Inner Cities & Transport
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