Dream ends in enemy advance; THE ROUTED RIGHT

The Prime Minister's triumph in the leadership contest left much egg on many faces, report Stephen Castle and Nick Cohen

THERE IS, said one right-winger, only one description of last week's Cabinet reshuffle: "A complete rout."

After 10 days in which John Redwood's right-wing army seemed poised to bring down the Prime Minister, the left has its strongest grip on the top political jobs in living memory. Mr Redwood is on the backbenches, Michael Portillo moves to the politically arid Ministry of Defence, and the only thoroughgoing right-winger to be promoted, Michael Forsyth, will be away from the national stage as Secretary of State for Scotland.

One left-winger said triumphantly: "Ask the right how they intend to respond and they mutter lamely about organising fringe meetings at party conference". A despondent right-winger added: "Perhaps John Major should invite Tony Blair into his Cabinet to restore a bit of right-wing balance."

So where does the right go from here? For Mr Redwood, defeat does have some compensations. His profile as a right-wing standard-bearer has been raised dramatically. Leaving Number One Parliament Street, the modern building which houses MPs' offices, Mr Redwood last week caused heads to turn as bystanders recognised him from television. This was a new sensation for the former Secretary of State for Wales.

Moreover, with 89 votes behind him, he is a clear challenger for the leadership of his wing of the party. The backbenches will give him ample scope, not least for cultivating those MPs who, he calculates, are likely to stay in Parliament after the next election. As one colleague put it: "It is a long time since there has been a genuine right-wing intellect and heavyweight carving out an agenda on the backbenches."

For Mr Redwood's chief right-wing rival, Mr Portillo, the future is not so rosy. The right has criticised him for failing to show the guts that Mr Redwood displayed in resigning and fighting. And not only colleagues are angry; Rupert Murdoch, some of whose papers were gearing up to support a Portillo challenge, is said to be disappointed.

The left is also deeply suspicious of him, partly because of an apparent attempt by his supporters to set up a campaign headquarters in Lord North Street. Mr Portillo's subsequent refusal to confirm or deny involvement smacked, said one right-winger "of student politics. It is not enough to pledge public loyalty to the Prime Minister, then fail to encourage your supporters to back him".

The Ministry of Defence is a promotion, a big office of state which often serves as an apprenticeship to the Foreign Office. But it presents difficult options: a failure to implement further cuts opens up accusations of going soft, a tough spending regime will upset that most powerful of Tory interest groups, the chiefs of staff, and there is little scope for involvement in economic and European debates. As one ex-minister put it: "The only clear blue water he will be seeing is off the coast of Bosnia."

Interestingly, the leadership campaign left most of the debates on the right unresolved, concentrating more on Mr Major's leadership style and rhetoric. Mr Redwood's agenda was more Eurosceptic than Mr Major's - it ruled out a single currency- and more populist, backing capital punishment and calling for the royal yatcht to be saved. But few big policy differences emerged. Instead of opting for a Newt Gingrich-style dismantling of the state, Mr Redwood called for smaller scale reductions in the role of government, and lower tax.

According to Daniel Finkelstein, director of the Social Market Foundation, a free-market think-tank: "The right has to decide whether it wants to tack to the mainstream or move trenchantly rightwards, which may separate it from the electorate."

On the backbenches Mr Redwood may move further in the Gingrich direction. Mr Portillo would then have to decide whether to position himself as the centre-right candidate or follow suit. The centre-right territory is currently occupied by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, who is arguing for gradual reform of the welfare state rather than big cuts.

The less cerebral right-wing element on the backbenches is keeping its head down but, many wonder, for how long? As one left-winger put it: "In the longer term there must be a question-mark over that. The difficulty is that, where once we knew that the whipless MPs numbered nine, we now know that Mr Redwood's backers number 89."

Whatever the length of the truce, right-wingers found one thing with which to comfort themselves: the Government's unpopularity. "The only consolation," said one last week, "is that when we lose the next election we can blame it on this SDP-style Cabinet, and get back to restoring a proper right-wing Conservative party."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project