Fun-seeking Redwood goes in quest of converts

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The Independent Online
John Redwood yesterday launched his campaign for the Tory party leadership committed to recreating a "broad church" which was "fun".

"I have to show they can win again and it is fun," he said. "One of the depressing things over the last five years is that we have not had enough fun in Conservative politics. We have to rekindle a sense of fun."

Mr Redwood, seen by many as a rather austere intellectual, may be regarded as the most unlikely "fun" candidate in the leadership campaign. But the extent of the Tory defeat, leaving the Tories with only 165 MPs to chose the new leader, has left Mr Redwood with little option but to widen his appeal from the Thatcherite right wing of the party.

He set out his new strategy by positioning himself more to the centre- right of his party, with a commitment to match Tony Blair's success in reviving his party's fortunes by consulting the grass roots. He also gave a pledge to listen more to the soundings from the 1922 Committee, which was decimated at the election.

Although he fought the general election on a personal pledge to reject the single European currency, Mr Redwood surprised a press conference at the Goring Hotel, near Westminster, by saying there was a lot he and the former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke could agree on.

Rejecting a single-issue campaign, Mr Redwood said: "I don't want a factional party, obsessed by one issue ...

"I do want a broad appeal. I believe that the Conservative Party is a broad church. It must stay as a broad church. The great problem is we don't have enough worshippers at the moment. We have to find more worshippers. You don't do that on one issue or one theme."

He carefully avoided the mistake made in his 1995 challenge to John Major for the leadership of being surrounded by the "whipless" Euro-sceptics - including the now deposed Tony Marlow in his striped blazer and Teresa Gorman - although the Euro-sceptics, John Wilkinson and David Wilshire, were there. He will not get the backing of any former Cabinet minis-ters, and the test will be the number and quality of middle-ranking ex-ministers who come out in his support.

He had to settle for senior backbenchers, Andrew Hunter, the former chairman of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee, and Marion Roe, former minister and past chairman of the Commons select committee on health.

Promising to reveal more support later, Mr Redwood said: "We will be doing the dance of the seven veils. It is so much more exciting that way."

The National Health Service and improvements in education are high on Mr Redwood's campaign agenda. But he also sought to focus the Tories in Opposition to attack the Government over Europe, insisting Robin Cook should have reached a deal to protect the jobs of British fishermen before moving to sign the European social chapter.

The campaign is also likely to hear much of the Tory success in Wokingham in taking 19 council seats out of 26 while the Tory party was facing "carnage" across the rest of the country. Mr Redwood said it showed that with good local organisation the Tories could remain popular with the voters.

He admitted the party has a tall task in reducing the average age of its members from over 60 years.

He wants to revive the grass roots, but he is against constitutional reform in the party, which he said would risk plunging the Conservatives into a rancorous internal dispute of the sort that kept Labour in opposition throughout the 1980s.