Rustle in the overgrowth as Redwood snakes out

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The Independent Online
What a long game John Redwood is playing. Yesterday, for no very obvious reason, he held a press conference to launch a booklet containing nine months' worth of his own speeches and articles. Since his resignation from the Cabinet last summer Mr Redwood has not actually been able to do anything, just talk about it. So, naturally, the pamphlet is entitled "Action Not Words".

Sitting up straight behind a large table in the Palace of Westminster's elegant Jubilee Room, Mr Redwood described these collected works as "a call to arms for the Conservative Party". It is as well as that he didn't make the call to his own arms. Remarkably, for limbs belonging to a conviction politician, Mr Redwood's arms refuse to join in his various crusades. No matter how the sentiments being uttered by the mouth cry out for supporting gesticulations, the arms remain rigid against Mr Redwood's bony flanks, or crossed tightly over his ungenerous midriff.

Not that the mouth is that keen either. Competing against the prehensile upper lip of the Prime Minister, the expressive pout of Mr Portillo, or the alternating "grim and grin" of Tony Blair, Mr Redwood's gob seems thin and expressionless. Every now and again a small, pink tongue will dart out and refresh the lips with a quick lick.

But the brain is there, and that is what matters. It has a strategy too, this brain, and having the corporeal Redwood pop up shortly after yet another catastrophic election defeat for his party is a part of it. With the nation's press and a number of backbenchers in attendance (Messrs Brazier, Gill, "Buzz-saw" Arnold and Riddick) Redwood can remind the world of his blamelessness for the massacre and of all the "friendly advice" given to the Prime Minister on a range of topics and (though he does not say it) shunned. And when the Final Defeat comes, and Majorism and all its works are swept aside, to whom shall the devastated party then turn?

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, the chances are that you are either the parent of small children, or a small child yourself. And you will recall that, in Disney's version of the Jungle Book, one animal patiently tracks Mowgli through the forest, very nearly making a meal of the tiny hero. No, not Shere Khan - a Portillo-like magnificent blunderer - but Kaa, the snake, whose lack of arms and flickering tongue make him a dead ringer for the former Secretary of State for Wales both physically and metaphorically.

Like the cartoon serpent, Redwood invites his prey to sit among his coils and to listen to that special, hypnotic song, "trust in meeee, just in meeee". Kaa would have cut taxes by now - and there is still time! Kaa would have not one, but two referendums on Europe - it is not too late! Action, not wordsss!

And there is another similarity, for - also like Kaa - Redwood somehow contrives to be omnipresent. Is there a clearing where a couple of disgruntled Tories are discussing divorce? Listen for the rustle in the overgrowth, and watch as a Redwood coil lowers itself from the banyan above. Are Daily Mail leader writers fulminating about education? A slight slithering sound, and one little eye appears, unblinking, from behind a nearby creeper. On health, defence, the elderly, law and order, the family, whatever - the whole schtick - Kaa has been moving sinuously, softly hissing to anyone who will listen: "Psssttt! Want a policy?".

And many do.

The old story has it that there once was a tribe of 3ft pygmies, the Fekawe, who inhabited a land of 4ft-tall grasses. All day long they would dash around blindly, growing ever more exhausted, defiantly yelling: "We're the Fekawe!". How unnecessary. Today's Fekawe - Britain's bewildered and bleeding Conservatives - have only to ask Kaa. He knows. e will lead them.

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