Redwood revels in being a rebel with a cause

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Indy Politics

John Redwood has thrown the Conservative party machine into turmoil by continuing to act as if he was trade and industry spokesman, although he was sacked from the post.

Not only has Mr Redwood remained an effective commentator on the issue, party managers believe he is consistently outshining his faltering colleague Angela Brown- ing, the official frontbench spokeswoman.

Mr Redwood, unexpectedly dismissed by the Tory leader William Hague in February, has continued to issue a snowstorm of press releases, hounding Labour for its handling of the Rover sell-off, and taking the credit for the Tory's best attacks. He has even clung to his Westminster office, normally reserved for members of the shadow cabinet

Mrs Browning's lacklustre performance has been blamed for the Conservatives' failure to profit from the affair.

Now Conservative members are asking how long Mrs Browning can survive - and why Mr Hague has not stopped Mr Redwood doing what would never be tolerated in the Labour Party.

Mr Redwood, MP for the affluent Wokingham constituency, is officially just an ordinary backbencher. But MPs believe he has proved himself the only Tory capable of landing punches on the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers. Just last week Mr Redwood set the Government's alarm bells ringing with his warning that the Alchemy deal could be jeopardised if ministers seek another buyer for Rover. Mrs Browning offered less challenging lines of attack, such as: "Stephen Byers must report progress as a matter of urgency to the House of Commons."

Mr Redwood's press adviser - Nikki Page, a former successful businesswoman - is almost a permanent feature in the Westminster press gallery, distributing press releases and answering questions, while Mrs Browning and her aides have remained almost invisible, even during the initial height of the Rover crisis.

But Mr Redwood dismisses any suggestion that he is undermining Mrs Browning, saying: "William Hague is leading our attack on Labour over Rover, having raised it twice at Prime Minister's Questions.

"This is a team effort and the issue is not what are the Tories doing but why Byers is so useless and the West Midlands are left suffering."

Mrs Browning did not return calls from the Independent on Sunday. A Conservative party spokesman said: "Mr Redwood is a backbencher, and he can do what he likes."