Defector Woodward rejects by-election call

Bob Roberts,Deputy Political Editor,Pa News
Sunday 19 December 1999 00:00 GMT

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Tory defector Shaun Woodward today rejected growing calls for him to stand down and face voters in a by-election.

Tory defector Shaun Woodward today rejected growing calls for him to stand down and face voters in a by-election.

The MP for Witney in Oxfordshire, who has joined Labour, said: "There is no need for me to fight a by-election for one very good reason - at the last general election I stood on a platform that was not xenophobic, that was not discriminatory, that believed in public services, schools and hospitals."

He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "It is the Tory Party that has changed in the last two-and-a-half years, it is the Tory Party which is xenophobic, it is the Tory Party which discriminates...

"They have left me and they, therefore, have left the people of Witney too."

Mr Woodward also rejected claims that a deal with Labour to get a ministerial job had prompted his move.

He said he did not even know whether he would be in Parliament after the next election.

Mr Woodward said: "Nobody makes these sort of decisions lightly.

"I have been worrying about the Tory Party's move to the right for quite a long time. I had hoped the party I came into was the John Major party - opportunity for all, society at ease with ourselves.

"Sadly, since William Hague became leader of the party it has gone more and more right-wing. We seem to be so xenophobic almost about Europe that in order to be British you have to only say nasty things about the French and the Germans."

He also criticised the Conservative "tax guarantee" which pledges to bring down tax levels, which he said would mean closing hospitals and schools if there was recession.

"For me it was the Blackpool conference which was the turning point. The Blackpool conference was the moment my party had left me."

Mr Woodward said he had three meetings with Tony Blair, which were "only about values".

He also dismissed what he called "bitter" claims by Mr Hague that he was a careerist.

Asked is he planned to stand in Witney at the next election, he said: "I am taking these things one day at a time.

"If I was a careerist I would have a detailed plan. I would know what I would be doing in three, six, nine, 12 months' time. I don't even know whether I will be in Parliamentary life in 18 months' time."

And on suggestions that he had an arrangement to get a safe Labour seat and a ministerial job, he said: "The truth is that there were absolutely no deals."

He added: "As of today I have put my political career in jeopardy for one very simple reason - the Tory Party of today is extremist, it is right-wing, it has actually found discrimination a political tool to use against people."

Mr Woodward said of reports that anonymous Conservative sources were making allegations about his private life: "It is pretty unpleasant stuff...

"If that is what the Conservative Party thinks the best way of dealing with individuals in our society is, is to peddle that kind of stuff, then that more than anything explains why I couldn't remain."

Conservative chairman Michael Ancram branded Mr Woodward a "purveyor of sincerity".

He said: "What we have seen today is a very good performance but what we have also seen is a man who decided he wasn't going to get on in his own party so he switched parties."

Mr Ancram told BBC's Breakfast With Frost: "He says the party has left him, the party is where it has always been.

"Shaun has decided for his own reasons to leave the party and no amount of sincerity or fake sincerity is going to hide that fact."

He also challenged Mr Woodward to stand down and fight a by-election.

"If he doesn't do that, then people will see what I have been saying all along - that he is a great presenter but, in fact, there is very little substance behind it."

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