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Saturday, 18 December, 1999, 21:36 GMT
Woodward's letter in full
The full text of Shaun Woodward's resignation letter to Conservative Party leader William Hague.
"It is with great regret that I must inform you of my decision to resign the Conservative whip and my membership of the Conservative Party with immediate effect.
"Obviously it follows that I will not wish to put myself forward as the Conservative candidate in Witney at the next General Election. Of course, it is also right to inform you that with immediate effect I intend to ask to take the Labour whip.
"After a period of very serious reflection, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that New Labour now more embodies the values for which I entered politics and that I represented to prospective constituents at the last General Election in Witney.
"Of course I am extremely sad that events have come to this. But 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.
"As you will know, my Executive this summer unanimously recommended my reselection as their candidate for the next General Election. However, I feel that it would simply not be credible for me to claim I could support the radically different platform you have adopted and continue to prosecute as we approach the next General Election.
"The changes you have made have arisen in a series of dramatic steps since the 1997 General Election. The Party has clearly now abandoned its commitment to a tradition of one-nation politics and embraced what can best be described as the values of possessive individualism.
"We have become increasingly less tolerant and our attitudes seem to be based more on prejudice than reason. On Europe, we have thrown away the sensible policies of John Major, an approach which was guided by his desire to secure the best for Britain.
"The 'Wait and See' policy on the euro has been scrapped for short-term political gain - without any due consideration for what may be in Britain's long-term national interests.
"In its place we have a policy which, even if joining the euro in the next few years should be in Britain's national interest, would hold us to a position in which we could not even put it to a referendum of the British people in the lifetime of the next parliament.
"At Blackpool this year, having promised that our ever-increasing anti-European stance would go no further to the right, you and your Shadow Cabinet announced yet further changes, this time threatening to block European enlargement, unless a future Conservative government obtained agreement to amend the Treaty of Rome.
"You would apparently hold the rest of Europe to ransom. This not only risks the stability of those fragile former communist countries, but closes opportunities for British businesses and the expansion of jobs in the UK. It is simply irresponsible.
"The announcement of the 'Tax Guarantee', also at Blackpool this year, is cause for very serious public concern. Does the Conservative Party really think the British people are so self-interested?
"I think people do recognise the role of society of their lives; this 'guarantee' threatens its very fabric in the provision of decent public services.
"The promise to reduce the burden of taxation year in year out in a future parliament is reckless. It would be pretty impossible to justify this policy in any circumstances - even when the economy is expanding. In practice, it would be very difficult to maintain adequate levels of funding to public services and welfare provision.
"But how would these public services be funded if the economy goes into a downturn? Or in a recession? A future government would either have to break their guarantee or cut dramatically public spending on essential services. How would the government fund the resulting increases in unemployment benefits?
"The failure to provide answers to these questions is simply misleading. Such a position is wrong. The consequences could and probably would be devastating.
"When my Association selected me, I was asked what would be my response, if ever a situation should arise, in which I had to choose between supporting the interests of my constituents or my Party on a three-line whip.
"After my dismissal, they recalled the question and the answer I gave. It was that, with regret, I would put my constituents first - although always seeking to avoid such a conflict of loyalties if at all possible.
"The decision over clause 28 was such an issue. Bullying of children in our schools is a very real problem. Last year ChildLine had more calls about bullying than any other issue. Having spoken to the headteachers in the constituency, I simply couldn't ignore their evidence and sincerely held views on this matter.
"Indeed, if the Conservative Party really means it is 'Listening to Britain', then why weren't we prepared to listen to teachers? Or the many children's charities, social workers, the RCN and so many others that have such considerable professional experience and feel the legislation should be repealed? Our position is simply neither responsible nor correct.
"Nonetheless, I would wish to stress that my decision to resign the whip is not a result of events in the last two weeks. My decision has been carefully considered over a long period of time.
"In the final analysis, it is not me who is leaving my Party. My Party has left me. I have loved working for the people of Witney, however they voted at the last election.
The comments of my Association in a press release last weekend were kind enough to describe me as "an outstanding constituency MP". They were very generous words. I will of course continue to work with the same commitment for my constituents until the next General Election, whenever that may be.
"This has not been an easy decision, either for myself or Camilla. I am very aware of the wonderful seat I will resign at the next General Election.
"But that would not justify staying in a Party which has changed so dramatically. The decision was one, which both Camilla and I discussed and considered very seriously in the summer of this year.
"My final decision has only been reached after further serious reflection in the weeks following the Party's Blackpool Conference. I could have allowed the timing of my decision to drift into the New Year.
"However, my former Association correctly should have as much time as possible between now and the next General Election to find a candidate who can represent the now very right-wing views of this once great Party of centre-ground politics.
"Of course I could have deferred both the decision and its announcement until later next year. That would have been wrong for them and wrong for me to wrestle any longer with my views about the future direction of the Conservative Party.
"Yours ever Shaun."
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