Wales remains dry-eyed over the Secretary of State's sudden departure, writes Nick Cohen; 'He was honest and rigorous but he had no empathy for Welsh social and political traditions'
JOHN REDWOOD left Wales without saying goodbye. The two had never really got on.

His last message to the civil servants who had worked with him for two years in the Welsh Office was a note to Michael Scholar, the permanent secretary, asking for his personal bric-a-brac to be sent back to England.

There was no word of thanks or encouragement to the staff. Even his two junior ministers did not have a valedictory chat. The first they heard of Mr Redwood's decision to resign as Secretary of State for Wales and put himself forward as Britain's next prime minister was when the news was broadcast on television.

By all accounts, the senior civil servants could live with Mr Redwood's quick exit. They cracked open some wine as soon as they heard he was gone. Mr Redwood had that effect on the Welsh. Stories about his insensitivity towards the cultural traditions of Wales are legion.

He went back every evening to his home in Wokingham, Berkshire, rather than stay in Wales ("I'm the only minister to be criticised for wanting to sleep with his wife," he once observed). He refused to sign documents written in Welsh because he could not understand them and was unable to learn the language.

He banned the use of the Welsh dragon on brochures which bore the slogan "Wales in Europe". The promotional literature, which was being distributed by the principality's Brussels office, was, to his mind, politically incorrect because it gave the impression Wales was a separate country - a view which if taken to its logical extreme would lead to the Prince of Wales being retitled Prince of a Part of the United Kingdom.

Now that Mr Redwood has resigned, his opponents do not know whether to condemn him as a radical right-winger whose changes went down in anti- Tory Wales "like a rat sandwich" (to use the simile of Dafydd Wigley the Plaid Cymru president) or to deride him as a transient eccentric who left no mark.

The debate has a wider resonance. Mr Redwood used the huge power given to the secretary of state for Wales to control every aspect of domestic policy. He mapped out a new right-wing agenda - one that might be followed by a Conservative government under either his leadership or Michael Portillo's - in numerous speeches and articles. "The Vulcan's" mixture of free- market capitalism, family values, Euro-scepticism and public spending cuts, which may yet conquer the rest of Britain, has been tried in Wales. How was it for the 2,900,000 earthlings who live there?

THE WELSH Office is supposed to be a haven for Tory dissidents; a Siberia, perhaps, but a Siberia where the Tory grandee in exile is given the freedom to implement his ideology. Peter Walker and David Hunt - branded Wets by Margaret Thatcher - are said to have kept the principality an outpost of one-nation Toryism when they were banished over the Severn.

Like all such stories, that is largely a myth. Most academics looking at Wales point out that it was when Mr Walker or Mr Hunt were in charge that Tory-dominated quangos grew like Topsy. Government grants to industry were cut almost in half. The Wets' rule did not save Wales from Thatcherism.

The converse applies. John Major banished Mr Redwood to Wales because he was a Eurosceptic Cabinet "bastard". Mr Redwood's record shows, however, that he failed to build a right-wing mini-state.

For example, when he launched his leadership challenge last week, Mr Redwood said that lower taxes did not require "sweeping cuts" in services or new additions to the growing national debt. His time in Wales showed they could be delivered simply by cutting administrative costs, "In the Welsh Office," he said, "I found it was quite possible to make substantial reductions in the overheads. I was able last year to send some money back to the Treasury."

His former colleagues disagree with the "substantial". Yes, said a Welsh Office spokesman, there had been an underspend on the department's budget in the 1993/94 tax year, but it was a mere pounds 17m not the pounds 100m newspapers had reported. This is a negligible percentage of the Welsh Office's pounds 6.8bn budget and, if applied to the whole government budget, barely enough to cut income tax by even a third of a penny.

The savings brought about by Mr Redwood's determination to contract work out to the private sector and to impose staff cuts may turn out to be higher when the 1994/95 accounts are produced. But it seems unlikely they will be large enough to show that "efficiency improvements" will allow the Conservatives to buy another election victory.

Then there is Mr Redwood's claim that he has produced a better health service in Wales by cutting back on administration and diverting the savings into care - a subject on which he had fierce arguments with Virginia Bottomley.

Some managers' jobs were indeed left unfilled. But a parliamentary answer last autumn revealed that the number of managers had risen, not fallen, in Wales between 1993 and 1994. Meanwhile the Major camp leaked figures last week showing that, when it came to numbers on waiting lists and other indicators of the quality of patient care, Bottomley's England performed better than Redwood's Wales.

There is also some doubt about the nature of the "managers" Redwood has replaced. "Most of the jobs that have gone have been for low-paid clerical officers," said David Galligan of the public services union Unison. "They're labelled administrative staff but they do vital work looking after the records and manning outpatients' departments. There are as many overpaid suits as ever."

Rhodri Morgan, Labour's Welsh Affairs spokesman who has been digging out the figures about the cost of Mr Redwood's Welsh administration, said the only way to cut taxes dramatically was to cut services. "It's a right- wing illusion that somehow you can find the money through efficiency savings."

Mr Redwood did, however, succeed in cleaning up Welsh government. The Wales he inherited in 1993 had numerous quangos packed with Conservative supporters who were dogged by allegations of misconduct.

The most notorious was the Welsh Development Agency. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found in 1993 that under the chairmanship of Gwyn Jones, a friend of the former secretary of state Peter Walker, the agency had spent pounds 1.4m too much on pay-offs for directors. Among the many other faults it identified was the recruitment of a convicted fraudster as its marketing manager and of a North American director who was allowed to keep office equipment that was worth pounds 50,000.

There have been no big scandals since Mr Redwood arrived and he has worked hard to control what he calls "unacceptable and unaccountable" quangos.

Kevin Morgan, professor of European regional development at Cardiff University, said that though the agency was successful, Mr Redwood had taken the opportunity to slash its budget because he would have disliked it anyway on the ideological ground that it was a state institution directing business life.

"But he wanted good government," Prof Morgan added. "He called the managers of quangos in and read them the riot act."

Not that this has stopped whistleblowers being punished. David Griffiths, a board member for the Welsh Health Promotion Agency, alerted the Welsh Office to possible abuses of taxpayers' money. As a result John Catford, the agency's chief executive, resigned after admitting a "silly and regrettable" affair with a colleague on expenses-paid trips to Brazil and Italy.

Mr Redwood responded by firing Mr Griffiths, although he subsequently placated critics by offering the civil servant another post on a different quango.

Further, the Labour Party argues that the promotion of Conservatives has continued apace despite the fact that in Wales the Tory party is little bigger than a splinter group.

Dr Jones's successor at the WDA was David Rowe-Beddoe, who turned out to be a former chairman of the Conservatives Abroad Monte Carlo Association. Mr Redwood initially denied knowing what Mr Rowe-Beddoe's political views were, even though his membership of Conservatives Abroad was on the CV the businessman sent to the Welsh Office. In the NHS, delegates to the Conservative party conference, defeated Tory candidates and the chairmen of local parties have all been given quango jobs.

ALL very much business as usual, claim Mr Redwood's opponents. But Mr Redwood himself appears to have genuinely believed that he was bringing something different to Wales.

Last year he became the first secretary of state for Wales in history to collect his speeches and offer them to the public for ready money. In Views from Wales (available for pounds 6.50 from the Conservative Political Centre), Mr Redwood wonders why the Tory political base in Wales declined when the party had taken Britain "through an economic miracle".

He had no doubt that what the Welsh Conservatives needed was more Thatcherism, not less. Public agencies had brought jobs to Wales, but Mr Redwood said it was dangerous to ascribe too much of the success to state intervention and too little to "free enterprise and the general success of Conservative economic policies". What the Welsh wanted was private enterprise and support for the family, he declared.

But the minister's own support for the family brought political controversy when he went to a housing estate in Cardiff and claimed (mistakenly as it turned out) that half the mothers were single parents. He condemned the trend in "some places for some young women to have babies with no apparent intention of even trying marriage or a stable relationship". It was a community that had "begun to accept that babies just happened".

The outcry, which was joined by many in Wales who considered themselves moral conservatives, was, one commentator said, explained in part by the feeling that so many jobs had gone under the Conservatives that it was a bit rich for ministers to start attacking people who could not find work. It was rumoured that Mr Redwood's Cabinet colleagues also asked him to tone down the family rhetoric as the Government's "back to basics" initiative collapsed after allegations about the sex lives of Tory MPs.

Mr Redwood's support for free markets has received a frosty reception in quarters where he might have expected support. Last year Elizabeth Haywood, director of the Welsh Confederation of British Industry, implicitly criticised Mr Redwood's plans to withdraw state aid. The CBI would like "a little more attention" to business, she said.

In May the Welsh electorate was given its chance to pass judgement on Mr Redwood's attempts to revive the party's fortune. The Conservatives ended without control of a single council in the country. Of the 1,273 seats in Wales, the Tories won only 42. In Cardiff, where the Tories shared power in the late 1980s and where there are large prosperous suburbs, the Tory group was reduced to a membership of one.

Leading Welsh Conservatives said the lesson that Mr Redwood drew from the rout was not that his policies were wrong, but that John Major was the cause of the disaster. "He can see no good in any other party and could not understand how people could vote against him," said Sir Eric Howells, president of the Welsh Conservatives.

His decision to stand in the leadership contest has taken Mr Redwood away for Wales good. Even impartial commentators think he will not be missed. Asked to sum up his legacy, Professor Morgan said: "He was honest and rigorous but he had no empathy for Welsh social and political traditions. I suspect that in a few years he won't be remembered. There will be no sense of anything missing ... and that is the most damning indictment of all."