Portillo tipped for shock return

With Michael Howard expected to take up the reins of the Conservative Party tomorrow, speculation is mounting on who will join the new shadow cabinet.

Mr Howard’s confirmation as leader may see Oliver Letwin, presently home affairs spokesman, filling in for Mr Howard as shadow chancellor. Tory health spokesman Dr Liam Fox could rise to chairman of the party.

But David Davis is also said to want the vacant shadow chancellor post.

One MP, doubting whether Dr Fox had the gravitas for the chairmanship, said his appointment would go down like a “lead balloon.”

Mr Howard is also thought to be considering a shock return for Michael Portillo. The MP for Kensington and Chelsea may replace Mr Letwin if the shadow home secretary is promoted to shadow chancellor.

Mr Portillo’s inclusion would appear to demonstrate Mr Howard’s resolve to lead from the centre as the former defence secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury under John Major is thought to be a social liberal.

Mr Howard is also expected to slim down his cabinet, reducing its 27-strong membership.

Eric Forth, the shadow leader of the Commons, is widely tipped for the sack.

The speculation comes as Iain Duncan Smith faces Prime Minister Tony Blair today, in what is likely to be his last appearance at the despatch box.

Last week, Mr Duncan Smith lost a no confidence vote in his leadership by 15 votes. 90 voted against IDS with 75 supporting him.