Redwood draws up populist 'Budget' to woo soft right

Challenger in exile: Former leadership candidate reinvents his health and welfare opinions in run-up to Tory party conference

NICHOLAS TIMMINS

Public Policy Editor

John Redwood, these days, is virtually a single-handed alternative government in waiting. From his grand base in Westminster's exclusive Lord North Street, he is drawing up his own alternative Budget to be launched at the Tory party conference in 10 days' time. At the same time, he is working on longer term plans to constrain public spending and the welfare state.

Yet the initial results from the man who can now claim to be the right's standard bearer are something of a surprise - more cautious, more populist and decidedly less purist than the views Michael Portillo was purveying before John Major transferred him to Defence and largely silenced him on social issues. Mr Redwood is developing a programme to appeal to the masses - not just the Tory right.

Take the Budget. Mr Redwood would cut taxes - but not tax rates. "There's not enough money to do that yet - much as I regret it." Instead, he would restore mortgage tax relief and abolish VAT on fuel and raise the thresholds at which people start to pay tax.

And his primary target there would be the married couple's allowance, a tax break the Government has been eroding. Raising it, he says, would have two effects. "It would take a lot of low-income families out of tax altogether, creating a better incentive to work". And it would be "a sign that we believe in the family - and we have to re-assert that we believe in the traditional family".

Remarkably, given his well publicised views, he would not cut single- parent benefits - a target the Treasury is claimed to have firmly in its sights for new claimants. "I don't want to take money away from single mothers at the moment, and I've always recognised, although my critics won't allow me to, that there are many different reasons for single motherhood. You can't treat it in a blanket way.

"I don't want to take things away from people that are there at the moment. I want to use the public spending savings I have found to reward families who are doing the right thing and are under pressure. That's my way of creating the famous clear blue water."

This defence of the family leaves Mr Redwood with an unexpected position on child benefit - a traditional target for the Tory right and now, apparently, for Tony Blair. Should it remain after the election?

"I am thinking about that. But you have to remember its origins. It was partly a benefit for people who needed extra money, but it was partly also a tax break for children.

"So if you say, as Tony Blair now does, that you should take it away from the more successful, you are actually forgetting that you used to get some tax recognition for children.

And I am very reluctant to recommend anything that does more damage to decent families who try to bring their own children up. If you pin me down, I will say 'yes, keep it'. It is too dangerous to meddle with it." Even after the next election? "I don't know. But if you ask me today, yes, that is my instinct."

So where will the long-term welfare state savings come from? Mr Redwood's answer is housing and social security - but very firmly not health and education. And even where he wants to cut the bill, it is through incentives for people to provide for themselves rather than by removing benefits.

In housing, he wants much more private and less public cash injected. But on pensions, the aim must be to get the 25 per cent who have no second pension of their own into one, he says. That may require some fairly dramatic new tax breaks on which he is working. But the outcome should be a big cut in the numbers dependent on income support and housing benefit in their old age. "So that's one big area dealt with".

On unemployment, Mr Redwood favours paying more benefits to people in work rather than out of it - "beefing up" family credit and paying a similar benefit to those without children. Labour is developing similar ideas. But many on the right oppose it. They see it as producing subsidised jobs at the expense of "real" ones. "It is a hard decision to take," Mr Redwood says. "But I would want to do it in a way where it was clear that it is cheaper to pay some family credit in work than pay full income support out of work." If you add in tax cuts at the bottom, then work incentives improve all round and unemployment falls.

But what about health and education. Are they sustainable in the long term, despite all the recent warnings? "Yes. I think health and education are eminently sustainable on the public pay role and that's what the public wants."

Can this be the same John Redwood who in 1988 advocated changes to the NHS that would lead to an insurance-based service? "I've never said I want to cut the money going to the core health service. I've always been a realist. It's a very popular service which people want to see providing the best." Everyone relies on it for emergencies and complex treatment, he says, "and will continue to do so"- although more tax relief for private premiums is "something we might look at again in due course".

And on education, he declares, "I am very keen on reform, but not changing how we pay for the service."

Does this not sound all rather "One Nation", rather than a prescription from the radical right? Mr Redwood almost winces and asks "Does it?"

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind"

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

News
i100
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album