Leading Article: John Redwood's hasty credo

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The Independent Online
John Redwood yesterday provided hints of the temptations he could offer and the threat he poses to John Major. Though not renowned for his seductive charms, he likened the stage-by-stage revelation of his thoughts to the Dance of the Seven Veils. The biblical reference is to Salome, daughter of Herod. When she removed her final veil, she was granted her wish: the severed head of John (the Baptist).

Mr Redwood's initial revelations were, however, less than tantalising. Some played to the crowd: he backed tax cuts and capital punishment while opposing the closure of popular local hospitals. Others established his Euro-sceptic credentials: he ruled out Britain's participation in a single currency, demanded curbs on the European Court and called for the repatriation of powers from Brussels. He portrayed himself as a tough but caring right- winger: his government would give more practical help for community care, extend right-to-buy public housing schemes, while shifting the justice system in favour of crime victims.

However the full shape of Mr Redwood's ideas remained elusive. There were obvious gaps - Northern Ireland did not gain a mention. And his figures do not add up. His pledge to spend generously on uneconomic hospitals, popular schools, the police, threatened regiments and even the royal yacht, sit uneasily with promises of tax cuts funded by reduced public spending. How could he afford such munificence? After 16 years of Tory efficiency drives, Mr Redwood's claim that there is much waste to eliminate sounds like bluster.

The problem is not just in the detail. Mr Redwood failed to offer a bold new vision. There were no grand ideas, no bold brushstrokes, no ambitious new aims designed to transform the political agenda. Instead we were given a list of familiar options in which think-tanks revel, but which a politician must place in a broad framework. Mr Redwood is perhaps still unaccustomed to the idea that he seeks to be prime minister, not just chief policy wonk. The past week may have surprised him as much as it has astonished the rest of us.

Yet within this mish-mash of populism, anti-Europeanism and authoritarianism, it is possible to detect important principles. Mr Redwood opposes bureaucracy and layers of administration, be they in hospitals, in social services or in Brussels. The pretender to the Tory crown would be a champion of consumers against administrators and experts. He would drop the cap on local government spending, allowing a devolution of tax raising and spending. Underlying all this is the revolutionary credo of smaller central government that has made Newt Gingrich king of the US Congress.

Mr Redwood is a serious man who has thought about these issues. But his manifesto bears the hallmarks of having been hastily written and carefully tailored to convince its immediate target audience. As such it falls far short of a manifesto for the next phase of the right-wing revolution. But these are early days. The Euro-sceptic right is now out in the open, required for the first time to set out its political stall. We could be on the eve of a new era in British politics.