Redwood keeps ambition alive with think-tank

Return of the Challenger: Launch of Conservative 2000 Foundation signals leadership intentions
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The Independent Online
PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

John Redwood yesterday launched his new think-tank - the Conservative 2000 Foundation - indicating that he had not abandoned his long-term ambition to lead the party.

Insisting that its aim and objective would be making the task of winning the next election easier, Mr Redwood declared the foundation an "open house, rooted in and working for" the Conservative Party.

However, its policy principles bore strong similarities to those used by Mr Redwood to fight John Major for the party leadership last month.

Yesterday's event, moreover, proved to be only a foretaste of plans for a grander "formal" launch in the run-up to the Conservative party conference in October, following a fact- finding visit to Republican leaders in the United States with the aim of promoting an American-style revival of right-wing thinking.

Key ideas that the foundation will pursue include scrapping one tax in every Budget, reducing public spending plans for next year by pounds 5,000m, replacing capital gains by taxing "short-term" gains and creating a tax and benefits system geared to help prudent pensioners and home owners and keep families together.

In the meantime, the quest is on for influential patrons, a board of trustees and, not least, additional funds. A company is being formed to market and collect subscriptions.

Baroness Thatcher is believed to be sympathetic to the new body, and Lord Tebbit is expected to offer his endorsement after supporting Mr Redwood in his attempt to unseat Mr Major.

But Mr Redwood and Hywel Williams, the foundation's policy director, have an even grander hope - a summit with Newt Gingrich, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, when they visit the US next month.

John O'Sullivan, a former speechwriter for Lady Thatcher and editor of the National Review in the US, has been enlisted to arrange a meeting with Mr Gingrich.

Mr Williams, the former ministerial adviser to Mr Redwood, said: "The great Gingrich experiment has been responsible for re-establishing the link between Conservative taxation and Conservative beliefs and values."

Mr Redwood said the Republicans "needed to rekindle their enthusiasm for conservative beliefs. Newt Gingrich showed them the way to do it."

The foundation's key policy principles will be Mr Redwood's way of, as he put it, helping Mr Major in a "friendly spirit".

Mr Redwood briefed the Prime Minister on the plans for the foundation before MPs rose for the summer recess.

As far as his leadership ambitions are concerned, a contest against Michael Portillo, his right-wing rival and Secretary of State for Defence, is likely to be uppermost in the former Welsh Secretary's mind. He told Radio 4's Today programme yesterday that "if there were a vacancy, several of us, including myself, might like to apply again".

Mr Portillo's supporters will not allow Mr Redwood to emerge as the sole standard-bearer for the right.

The foundation's first publication - available in full on the Internet from tomorrow - takes the form of suggested answers to Our Nation's Future, the Tory party consultation exercise recently set in train by Mr Major.

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