Redwood friends set up 'alternative' think-tank

'It would need to be ... genuinely independent'
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The Independent Online
John Redwood's campaign to put himself at the head of an alternative political force on the Conservative back benches will be underpinned by a new think-tank to be set up by the supporters of his failed leadership challenge against the Prime Minister.

He confirmed yesterday that he had been "asked to endorse" an organisation planned by Hwyel Williams, his former ministerial special adviser and leadership campaign organiser.

Mr Redwood said "it would need to be a policy centre that was genuinely independent, open to the whole Conservative Party" and thinking about the next five to 10 years. But he denied that it would be called the Redwood Trust. "It should have a general, neutral name. But if it were the right kind of trust or institute, if it weren't factional, I would be interested in contributing and working with it."

Mr Williams is believed to have lined up financial support from admirers who see a need for an equivalent to the Centre for Policy Studies which was set up by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s to work on the early "Thatcherite" platform.

Mr Redwood said: "The first thing I would want it to publish would be a pamphlet on the right-left question, within the Conservative Party and more widely. I see the difference between Euro-enthusiast and Euro-sceptic, but not between left and right. For example, I agree with Stephen Dorrell [Secretary of State for Health] on many aspects of health policy, and there are not a lot of differences around the Cabinet table on economic policy." He added that Tony Blair's view of the need to redefine left and right in politics more generally was "one of the few things he says that I agree with".

The initiative on what used to be described as the Conservative "right" comes as Tory Central Office launches its biggest consultation to date of party members on policy, which is seen as an attempt by John Major to show that he has not run out of policy ideas. The questionnaire seeks views on the future of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the constitution, and on the possible privatisation of police, health and welfare services.

Meanwhile, three MPs who backed Mr Redwood in his leadership campaign - Sir George Gardiner (Reigate), Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton South West) and John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) - face trouble from their local Conservative associations. Peter Bottomley, who is seeking a safer seat than his present marginal outer London constituency, Eltham, said yesterday: "I have been very tempted to apply for the Reigate seat."

Mr Redwood is expected to maintain his profile by intervening in the Commons debate on enforcing new rules of public ethics for MPs on Wednesday. The Nolan inquiry's proposal that ethics should be overseen by an independent ombudsman rouses the passions of many Tory backbenchers. "It is difficult if not impossible to stop the ombudsman being appointed, but it is important to make sure he is responsible directly to Parliament," he said.