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Jon Kay reports for BBC News
"The Labour Party is making the most of the defection"
 real 28k

Emma Udwin reports for BBC News
"Whatever his motives, he has handed the Labour party an extraordinary early Christmas present"
 real 28k

Lord Norman Tebbit, Former Tory Party Chairman
"Mr Woodward seems more anxious to play to the homosexual gallery"
 real 28k

Saturday, 18 December, 1999, 22:24 GMT
Anger as Tory defects to Labour

"The Conservative Party that I believed in has left me"

Former Conservative front bench spokesman Shaun Woodward has been urged to stand down as an MP after leaving the party to join Labour.

Mr Woodward announced his defection on Saturday, saying that he objected to the Conservatives' "increasingly right-wing" policies.

Tory party leader William Hague called on him to resign immediately.

Mr Hague wrote in a letter: "If you were a man of honour, who valued his constituents as much as you say you do, you would resign your seat now, fight a by-election and give them the opportunity to judge who it is that represents their views and their instincts more accurately.

I can no longer support the increasingly right-wing policies of the Conservative Party
Shaun Woodward
"The Conservative Party has not left you. You have left a Party whose members have given you their loyal support.

"You have done so for reasons not of integrity or of principle, but for your own careerist reasons."

But Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the move of a "serious" and "decent" politician to his new "natural home".

"The Conservative Party has lost a real talent. The Labour Party has gained one," he said.

It is believed that Mr Woodward had been considering the move for some weeks, but the last straw was his sacking by pager earlier this month as the party spokesman on London.

He had refused to back the Tories' opposition to the government's plans to repeal section 28 - the legislation which bans local authorities and schools from promoting homosexuality.

Since then he has appeared increasingly at odds with Mr Hague's policy agenda.

We have become increasingly less tolerant and our attitudes seem to be based more on prejudice than reason
Shaun Woodward
Speaking outside his London home on Saturday, Mr Woodward said the party had moved away from the ideologies it had under Mr Hague's predecessor John Major.

"Sadly I believe the Conservative Party that I believed in has left me," he said.

"My principles and values are where they were and I want to use what talents I have got to work with this country. I believe these values are best embodied in New Labour."

In his resignation letter, Mr Woodward wrote: "I can no longer support the increasingly right-wing policies of the Conservative Party, which you and your colleagues have adopted over the last two-and-a-half years.

William Hague Another major blow to William Hague's leadership
"We have become increasingly less tolerant and our attitudes seem to be based more on prejudice than reason."

He singled out the "ever-increasing anti-European stance" of the party for particular criticism.

And of clause 28, he said: "Our position is simply neither responsible nor correct."

Conservatives angry

Many senior Tories dismissed Mr Woodward's claims about values.

Conservative party chairman Michael Ancram called the move a "self-promoting defection".

Tory peer Lord Tebbit said: "The man is not a Conservative and he appears to be more attracted to europhilia and homosexuality than to Conservatism."

But Mr Woodward's father-in-law, former Tory MP and minister Sir Timothy Sainsbury, said that he understood the move, even though he regretted it.

"The present policy of the party and the views on Europe expressed by some leading members make it increasingly difficult for the thousands of Conservative activists and millions of Conservative voters, who share that view, to continue to support the party," he said.

"Shaun Woodward was in a position to help the party develop 'one nation' policies that would appeal to the wider electorate. I am, therefore, sorry that he has chosen to leave."

Witney 'shocked'

The move seemed to have generated a mixed reaction among voters in Witney, where some said they were delighted and others that they were let down by their MP.

But it drew a harsh reaction from the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, which said it was "shocked and disappointed".

"The officers of this association cannot possibly condone his decision to ask for the Labour whip," it said in a statement.

Duncan Enright, vice-chairman of the Labour Witney constituency party, dismissed calls for a by-election.

"Everyone in Witney knows Shaun Woodward is a highly effective MP who has worked hard for his constituents, however they voted," he said.

"He is a good campaigner and a hard-working man. He's proved himself in the past two-and-a-half years."

Mr Woodward is the third Tory MP to defect to New Labour.

Alan Howarth, then Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, defected in October 1995 after speaking about his "profound disagreement" with a range of government policies.

The former Tory minister was selected to stand in Newport East shortly before the 1997 General Election and is now Arts Minister.

Peter Temple-Morris, MP for Leominster, and a pro-European, resigned the Tory whip in November 1997 and sat as an independent before defecting to Labour in June last year.
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See also:
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Tory star who jumped ship
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Mixed reaction to Woodward defection
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Woodward's letter in full
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Hague's letter in full
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Another Tory wooed by Blair

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