TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION: Redwood loses ... on a show of handshake

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There is something in the ancient Berkshire market town of Wokingham known as the John Redwood handshake. This, it appears, involves extending a regally proffered hand and dusting the fingertips of the person to whom you have just been introduced before moving smartly on to find someone else more important to speak to.

It is famous locally. Or so Angela Slade, a self-employed management consultant, says. "It's a sort of 'you're not important so I'm just going to move on to the next person' approach." Peter Slade, Angela's husband, a computer programmer, says the MP "touches hands rather than shakes hands".

Mr Slade, who normally votes Conservative, does not think Mr Redwood should challenge John Major for the leadership of the Tory party. "I don't think he's a very presentable candidate ...What was it we were saying last night? He's a prat." A "superprat", confirms Angela, who used to vote Tory but is finding it increasingly difficult to do so.

"Apart from the fact that we don't particularly like him," Mr Slade says, "I don't think he has anything to sway other Conservative voters to vote for him. I don't think he is the right person to be at the front come the general election."

"He's a bit of an autocrat," says Angela. "I think the man is just too full of his own self-importance."

From a random straw poll of constituents in the somnolent and heat-hazed centre of Wokingham yesterday afternoon, John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, is not the most popular or charismatic Member of Parliament the town has known. Timothy Ingpem, a 48-year-old insurance supervisor and Conservative voter, said: "I think he should go along with the rest of the Conservatives and show some loyalty to John Major. He seems to be the only one that has kept quiet."

Susan Clark, 48 and unemployed, said: "Why shouldn't John Redwood make a challenge if he thinks he can do a better job. Why not go for it? I don't actually know very much about John Redwood. I don't think a lot of John Major. What has he done for me?"

Paul Gardner, 37, a tree-feller, said Britain needed strong leadership. "Margaret Thatcher was good. What you need is a government that is going to rule the country, bringing prosperity and wealth. John Redwood is not that, John Major is a joke."

One of Mr Redwood's constituents hand-delivered a letter to the MP's home yesterday. Christopher Bowring, 42, said: "He is the brightest man in the Cabinet and in my letter I have urged him to stand." The computer analyst was a member of the town's Conservative Association before Maastricht. "I believe John Major is in for a shock, I think Mr Redwood will make a very good prime minister. If Redwood does stand I will renew my membership."

Shaun Renaud, 33, who used to be an air-conditioning fitter, said the Tories ought to keep John Major but tell him to stop integrating Britain in Europe. However, it might all be a tad academic for him now. He has just won pounds 2.69m in the National Lottery.