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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Interview: John Redwood
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff

When John Redwood returned to frontline politics after a four year break, there was plenty of speculation Michael Howard was trying to tempt back Tories who had decamped to UKIP.

The new Conservative deregulation spokesman is, after all, the Tory MP who mounted a eurosceptic challenge against John Major's premiership in 1995.

John Redwood
Mr Redwood is the Tories' new deregulation supremo
When we met, the day after the Hartlepool by-election and just before the Tories began to gather in Bournemouth for their party's annual conference, Redwood refused to accept the vote would have any bearing on the general election.

Even though the Tories were forced into fourth place by UKIP, he argued the outcome was "definitely out of line" with local and European elections on 10 June and with local council by-elections since Howard became Tory leader.

I do not believe many people who vote UKIP are stupid
And he argued that at a general election people who "passionately want less European government, or no European government, will understand that they have to vote for a Conservative Party pledged to no euro, to no constitution, and to reduced powers".

He added: "I do not believe many people who vote UKIP are stupid and I think they understand that you can send a protest message in a European election or a by-election but you would be very foolish to try and do it in a general election."

Redwood insists he is not pro-withdrawal, he just wants a renegotiation of Britain's place in the EU.

I personally think it was disappointing to see John [Bercow] and Damien [Green] go
Julie Kirkbride

He said a Tory government "would say to our partners for the first time, we don't want Britain to always be the anchor dragging the ship down as it has done under Thatcher, Major and Blair - we will let you go ahead so long as you don't expect us to join in all the things we don't like".

'European problem'

During our discussion, he also referred to a "European problem".

That is in the context of the near-open warfare that erupted in the Tory Party when Major was premier and Redwood - who quit as Welsh secretary - ran for leader.

They attempt to smear by giving a view of my character that I don't share
Explaining that decision, he said: "My ambition was always to get the Tory Party to do the right thing and particularly to solve the European problem. I think the best way of doing that is to support Michael Howard and to win the general election."

Redwood has suffered, possibly more than most politicians, from a running commentary about his slightly gauche public image.


So does he mind being called "vulcan"?

"I don't like it, nobody would, but if you don't like the heat then get out of the kitchen," he said.

"I think people sometimes go for those kind of things because they haven't managed to trap me in the more normal way - they haven't found anything I have said and done that they can criticise and so they attempt to smear by giving a view of my character that I don't share.

You have to be very rich to afford Labour, with 66 tax rises since they came in power
"I didn't invent it, I don't seek it, I think it's got very boring. They [the media] have to judge their audience - if that's the best they can do it tells you something about them."

The thing is when Redwood makes his case he does so in a rather cerebral manner - he doesn't argue with great passion, preferring instead to power his argument with logic.

In fact, the only time he displayed even the smallest chink in his armour during our conversation was when he was asked about his family background - which was humble - and the impact that had on his politics.

'Good to watch'

"I come from a loving family background which was a great advantage, a great strength, but we didn't have a lot of money in the early days," he said.

"I started out as a child living in a council house and the big breakthrough my parents made was they bought a home of their own.

"I think that had an impact on me - it made me very keen to see other people in the country have that kind of opportunity that they'd managed to grasp.

"They took advantage of the opportunity to buy a better house and get a better job and enjoy the growing luxuries that became available to people on average incomes. It was good to watch."

So why did he join the Tories?

"You have to be very rich to afford Labour, with 66 tax rises since they came in power," he replied.

"We should begin to remind people they are always after your money and if you are on something around average earnings you really don't have that spare capacity to pay for all these follies that Labour keep spending their money on."

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