Zac Goldsmith, the multi-millionaire environmentalist who is standing as a Conservative at the next general election, said yesterday he would refuse to compromise his radical green views if he were elected – even if he were offered a job in a new government led by David Cameron.
Mr Goldsmith, 34, the former editor of The Ecologist magazine, said he would not alter his opposition to issues such as nuclear power, genetically modified crops and the expansion of London's Heathrow airport even if it meant him clashing with the official Tory position.
The son of the billionaire playboy Sir James Goldsmith is one of the Conservatives' highest-profile candidates, often characterised as a "glamorous green", and has a serious chance of being elected in his south-west London constituency of Richmond Park, at present held by the Liberal Democrats. His environmental expertise has brought him high-level involvement with the Tory policymaking process and there has been speculation that Mr Cameron might well offer him office in a new administration.
But asked if he would resign if he were a Cabinet minister and Mr Cameron changed tack, for instance, on Heathrow – at present the Tories are opposed to a new, third runway, in contrast to Labour – he said: "I would certainly not support it. I wouldn't imply support, I wouldn't hint at support, I would oppose it. It would be the wrong decision. On an issue that I know something about and care about, I'll vote in the way that I think is correct, and if that excludes me from any possibility of having Cabinet position, so be it."
Mr Goldsmith was speaking at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, in support of his new book The Constant Economy, a guide to policies which he feels can make for a fairer, greener and more stable society, within the present political system. Interviewed before an audience of 200, he expanded on his pledge not to suppress his views.
"I haven't gone into politics to have a glossy political career," he said. "That's not of any interest to me. I've gone into politics because I want to change things. I think there's an awful lot that can be done and an awful lot that needs to be done and that, I think, doesn't sit squarely with the idea that you become a political automaton, that you have a political lobotomy and you simply do as you're told.
"I'm amazed, if you look at the voting record of so many MPs, of all parties, it's usually hovering around the 98 per cent, 99 per cent loyalty mark – now that's extraordinary to me."
He went on: "If I was a Cabinet member, and you saw me standing up on a platform saying, the Conservative Party's absolutely right to do a U-turn on Heathrow expansion and it's great for the economy and good for everyone else and to hell with the 2 million people under the flight path, what would that say to the British public? It would say that British politicians are even less trustworthy than we thought.
"People would recognise absolutely that I was doing it for the advancement of my own career, and that sends a very bad message about trust, and people and power. The last thing people want is endless political automatons simply doing what they're told in the interests of their own career. More independence is desperately needed"
Mr Goldsmith, who has been in the headlines because of the break-up of his marriage to his wife Sheherazade – the divorce settlement is likely to cost him a hefty chunk of his estimated £300m fortune – has not always been a Tory. In the 1997 election he helped his father Sir James campaign for The Referendum Party, which was opposed to British membership of the EU.
He said of the Conservatives: "There are people in the party who doubt climate change and doubt the importance of environmental issues generally, but I do believe the Conservatives are moving in the right direction."
What's on: Friday's schedule
* Victoria Coren charts the rise of Poker from the smoke-filled backroom to glitzy global tournaments (Poker Faces, The Oxfordshire Museum, 12:30pm)
* Foreign correspondents Martin Bell and Robert Fisk discuss the Golden Age of reportage (The Lost Art of Reportage, Blenheim Palace, 2pm)
* Blur's Alex James and The Undertones's Feargal Sharkey discuss the poets that influence modern-day songwriters. (The Poetry of Rock n' Roll, Blenheim Palace, 4pm)