A fatal lack of judgement: John Redwood joins the tribe of pygmy Tories

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What's wrong with John Redwood? He fulfils, after all, many of the requirements of a big politician. He has real courage, exhibited by his decision to resign and stand against John Major in 1995. He is seriously clever, or he wouldn't have successfully run Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit in the 1980s. He is articulate, as he proved in an interview with Sir David Frost only last weekend. And he has energy, which drove his tireless campaign against Lord Simon's famous BP shares. So what's missing?

Forget the cliche about Redwood being a Vulcan. I suspect he has emotions as strong as any politician and quite a lot stronger than many. No, part of what is missing is that elusive quality called judgement. His infantile protest this week against the decision to grant the freedom of the City of London to Helmut Kohl was rewarded by a humiliating and commendably swift put-down from William Hague.

He hadn't even bothered to check, before tabling a dozen conspiracy-hunting parliamentary questions, the truth - which is that the City of London Corporation thought up the idea of awarding the Chancellor the City's greatest honour and then checked that the Foreign Office and Downing Street approved. But it is scarcely a first offence. He launched his leadership campaign against John Major surrounded by the most colourfully nutty elements of the Tory right. He idiotically attacked Tony Blair on the grounds that he couldn't both claim a leading role in the EU and travel to Tokyo, when in fact trade relations with Japan are a natural preoccupation of the EU presidency. He has pursued a relentlessly personal campaign against Margaret Beckett in which an obsession with trivia has overwhelmed the perfectly valid arguments that could be mounted against her stewardship of the DTI.

Some of this is quite easy to excuse. Being in opposition against a government with a majority of 179, led by a Prime Minister who continues to break all opinion poll records, isn't exactly easy. And in a scarcely star-studded shadow cabinet, he has at least been visible. You could, too, explain some of his lapses as the result of losing his former adviser Hwyel Williams, an unusual former Rugby schoolmaster with wit, imagination and commonsense, who is now cheerfully putting the finishing touches to Guilty Men, a book which seeks, by all accounts, to lay the blame for the eclipse of Conservatism on all leading Conservatives, Redwood included. An overactive press officer who stalks the corridors of Westminster bearing Redwood's latest daily pronouncement on every subject in the news is no substitute for Williams' - at times - restraining influence.

But Redwood's latest offence is quite a lot more than a mere tactical slip. It's somehow appropriate that he should have earned his reprimand from William Hague on the day they buried Enoch Powell, a politician best remembered for resigning from the government and then, 10 years later, being sacked in opposition by his party leader for an act of destructive right-wing populism. Powell had charisma and a national constituency of a sort that Redwood can only dream about.

Powell was much the more dangerous of the two men, and his offence as a member of the shadow cabinet correspondingly more monstrous. But the parallels shouldn't be altogether dismissed. For what Redwood tapped into, for all his weasly admission that "many British people have no personal dislike of Chancellor Kohl", is a perversion of truth as indefensible as Powell's dire predictions of racial war a generation ago. Redwood referred archly in his press release to the embarrassment of entertaining "a most important guest against the most unfortunate background of a street protest" - conferring a kind of wholesome respectability to a ragged but unpleasant group of right-wing extremists whose idea of an appropriate welcome for the man who is indisputably Europe's biggest statesman is to play recordings of air raid sirens from the Blitz.

The perversion is so simple as hardly to need restating: the Kohl project is precisely the opposite of what politicians who demonise the German Chancellor seek to foster - namely that Kohl seeks to secure by peaceful means the dominance of Europe which the Third Reich failed to do by war. Redwood would no doubt disclaim such a crudity; but he does nothing to eliminate it. It was the lie that brought Wednesday's "street protest" to the Mansion House. It was the lie explicitly told by the late Sir James Goldsmith to his now beached army of Referendum Party supporters - many of whom pro-European Tories now fear are infiltrating the Conservative Party in the hope of ensuring right-wing nationalists displace incumbents and their supporters as candidates for the 1999 European elections. And it rests on the proposition that Kohl wants a German Europe, of which monetary union is assumed to be the engine, when his whole political life has been devoted to the goal of a European Germany.

In a moving speech on Wednesday night Kohl contrasted free movement within Europe with his own adolescence, when he needed a permit to cross the Rhine from one part of occupied Germany to another. He graciously paid tribute to London as the haven for refugees from Nazi barbarity. He did not, as he would have been entitled to do, boast that he, and not Thatcher or Gorbachev, had been vindicated by the reunification of Germany. You don't have to agree with EMU to recognise this as a speech which made Redwood look like a political dwarf.

All this, there is reason to hope, is what Hague has recognised. Here the Redwood- Powell parallel is again instructive. Those who, finally, had most reason to resent Powell's Rivers of Blood speech were those who revere him as the pioneer, by his resignation in 1958, of the cause of sound money and fiscal prudence. Similarly it's the EMU sceptics who have most to fear from Kohl-baiting on the right, because it damages their cause among sensible, moderate, non-xenophobic people. Hague's lieutenants denied yesterday the strong inference by some in the shadow cabinet that Hague had now shown Redwood the yellow card. But speculation that he might become the next shadow chancellor suddenly looks hopelessly inappropriate. In the case of fatally flawed politicians like Powell we are supposed to forget the flaws and remember the cause. But we don't; and Redwood urgently needs to remember that if he is to stay in the game at all.

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