Why, exactly, would people not vote for John Redwood?
CHARLES MOO RE
If one had one's doubts about John Red- wood's chances as he pondered his candida- cy over the weekend they should have been dispelled by the Chancellor of the Exche- quer on Monday. With that unnecessary frankness that makes one like him so much, Mr Clarke said that the Conservatives would `never in a thousand years' win an election on Mr Redwood's 'ultra-right-wing agenda'.
When politicians start talking about a thousand years, it is invariably the result of desperation or a loss of grip on reality or both. Hitler had a thousand-year Reich. Ian Smith said that black majority rule would never happen in a thousand years.
Now Mr Clarke. What Mr Redwood says he wants is an end to 'damaging constitu- tional change', opposition to the abolition of the pound, reductions in tax and better `conduct of government'. Why is that 'ultra- right-wing', and why would people never vote for it?
I know that this question can only be asked rhetorically of Mr Clarke because it is one of the most striking things about his school of Conservative that it can never explain itself. It believes absolutely sincere- ly that Britain must be at the heart of Europe, must have very high welfare spending 'paid for out of growth' and that anything 'Thatcherite' is 'unpopular', but it can only assert these beliefs, never argue for them. Three times in Mr Clarke's politi- cal career his party has won elections argu- ing the opposite (four times if you count the Major victory of 1992 as 'Thatcherite'), but Mr Clarke appears not to have noticed. He is a far more genial version of his first Tory Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, the arch-asserter. No new thought has entered his brain since about 1965.
But although he cannot argue, Mr Clarke needs answering. Inability to argue, after all, is supposed to be a Tory virtue and deserves respect. I never thought I would see the day when a candidate for the Tory leadership (Mr Redwood) was praised by his support- ers for his 'high intellect'. Ken may have the wrong policies, but mightn't he be right about the unpopularity? One must assume that Mr Redwood, so far as he is known to the public at all, is unpopular with them.
The first thing to say is that this does not distinguish Mr Redwood from any other member of the Government, including Mr Clarke. If our nation is now united in any way at all, it is in a warm, open-hearted, undiscriminating hatred of its Government. If it reserves a little more affection for one individual over another, this makes no elec- toral difference. Mr Major, one reads, is widely regarded aS a 'nice man', but much good has it done him. The most likable of our prime ministers has become the least respected. It is also worth pointing out that the Tories have not chosen a popular per- son to lead them since Anthony Eden, and this has not stopped them winning more elections than Labour.
But anyway the popularity point is no longer about Mr Major. It is assumed by all sides that he will have to depart (wrongly, perhaps, but assumed it is). 'Popularity' is now a code-word for Michael Heseltine. He would be popular with the 'punters', apparently, and Mr Redwood, or Mr Por- tillo if he somehow managed to make up for lost time and replace or defeat Mr Red- wood in a second ballot, would not.
Well, it is true that those graphs of Tory opinion-poll unpopularity give a tiny little skip upwards when the words Michael Hes- eltine are mentioned, and it is true that seats for his shows at a Conservative Party conference are usually sold out, like tickets for a Frank Sinatra concert. And just as some housewives feel, after meeting a door-to-door salesman of the Encyclopae- dia Britannica, that they have touched the mantle of learning, there must be some vot- ers who, after meeting Mr Heseltine, believe that they have walked with destiny. All true, all true. My only point is that the Tories might need a bit more than this to win an election.
No one can be sure that Mr Redwood will provide that bit more. But what he has grasped — as his Cabinet colleagues did not — is that this is 'make up your mind time', and his is made up. Immediately after Mr Redwood announced his candida- cy, Mr John McGregor came on the televi- sion and explained that 'John Major is the best man to unite the Conservative Party'. If he was right, then why did Mr Major feel the need for this contest? And what does Mr McGregor think of all the uniting that Mr Major has been doing for nearly five years now? Mr Major's policy of splitting the difference has split the party. His last unintended gift to the Tories may be to give them a proper choice.
For to do Mr Heseltine justice, he, like Mr Redwood, is a man of principle. As one minister put it to me this week, 'It's all there in his books and he's never backed away from it. It's simply that people don't bother to take it seriously, just like Mein Kampf' Mr Heseltine believes in Europe because he is a corporatist and Europe is the biggest corporation available. He will do anything necessary to maximise the corporation's monopoly power. That, in all its majestic vulgarity of mind, is his policy. It seems a strange abuse of language to call it Tory. It sounds more like Oswald Mosley (who was a keen supporter of European union).
Mr Redwood, on the other hand, thinks that our country should be governed by its elected representatives and not by other people's unelected ones. He thinks that it should issue and control its own money. It seems perfectly reasonable to call such a view Tory, although it is certainly not exclu- sively so.
That is the choice, or rather, that is what I believe that the choice will end up being in a second ballot. A choice between the Devil and the clear blue water, I admit, and there- fore one that the Tories have understand- ably tried to avoid. Mr Major has accidental- ly ensured that it can be avoided no longer.
But which will be more popular? asks poor, desperate Sir Lance Boyle, the belea- guered and perplexed Member for Watford Gap, who is the victim of a 'hearts and minds' campaign from the candidates and is guiltily conscious of possessing neither of those commodities. I can't help Sir Lance there, but I can ask another question: 'Which position would Labour fear more?' Unless Mr Blair is very stupid — and he is not — he will fear the position that more clearly exposes his own. That position is Mr Redwood's, and you can see that Mr Red- wood knows that it is by his use of the phrase 'the abolition of the pound' instead of the technical jargon about Economic and Monetary Union.
If voters know that Labour wants to abol- ish the pound and the Conservatives do not, they will pause for thought, as once they did when they realised that Labour wanted to abolish our Bomb.