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

Saturday, 18 December, 1999, 21:30 GMT
Mixed reaction to Woodward defection

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

Shaun Woodward's decision to join Labour has provoked fury and disappointment from the Tory faithful and an equal measure of delight from Blairites.

Mr Woodward's father-in-law, former Tory MP and minister Sir Timothy Sainsbury, issued a statement expressing his regret at the MP's decision to leave the party, but sympathising with his views on Europe.

He added: "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."

The chairman of his home constituency's Conservative Association Barry Tanswell said he was "extremely shocked" by the announcement.

"The officers of this association cannot possibly condone his decision to ask for the Labour whip.

"The constituents of West Oxfordshire who voted for a Conservative MP in 1997 may well feel badly let down."

Tory peer Lord Tebbit - not known for mincing his words - was even more scathing.

He said: "This shows how perceptive William Hague was and how right he was to sack him.

"The man (Mr Woodward) is not a Conservative and he appears to be more attracted to europhilia and homosexuality than to Conservatism."

'No friends'

Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot, said the MP was a man who had been at the heart of the Conservative party for years.

"That he should find solace in the Labour Party after having been part of the team vigorously attacking this government, demonstrates a total lack of principle."

"No doubt Mr Blair will offer him a front bench position. Mr Woodward is intensely ambitious. He has wealth and family and the one thing he lacked was status in terms of position.

"If he goes on to the Labour front bench he will have no friends there and he will have no friends on our side and it may not be a particularly rosy time for him."

'Welcome with open arms'

Unsurprisingly Labour supporters found it hard to contain their joy when news of the defection broke.

Duncan Enright, the vice chairman of the Labour Party in Witney, welcomed Mr Woodward's move.

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

Martin Salter, chairman of the South East group of Labour MPs, said: "I'm delighted our group has grown to 23.

"I welcome him with open arms. He is clearly one of the most impressive and talented MPs of the 1997 intake."

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Shaun Woodward's decision confirms that the Conservative Party can no longer offer any solutions to the needs of the next century, either for London or for the country as a whole.

"Given Mr Woodward's principled stand against Section 28, it is surprising that he has chosen Labour which abstained on the matter when the Conservatives introduced it, rather than the Liberal Democrats who have consistently opposed it."

Witney divided

There was a more mixed reaction from Christmas shoppers in Mr Woodward's home constituency.

Malcolm Townsend, 61, said: "I feel betrayed and cheated by Mr Woodward. I voted for him at the last election as he represented the Conservative Party and their policies.

"I feel cheated that he wins votes under the Conservative banner and then changes party whenever he feels like it.

"It's not right and I feel let down. I'm sure many others in the town will also share this view."

Pensioner John Bowmer, 76, said: "I have voted Conservative and I voted for Mr Woodward.

"I admire his work but I think he's been very foolish with what he's done.

"He's got upset about being sacked from the front bench and he has got his revenge in."

"The public put him in office and I don't believe he should have the right to change parties having won public support by representing the Conservative Party."

But student Lisa Carrow, 22, welcomed the decision saying: "He's obviously seen the light, but it's a cheeky trick to pull. Labour have just won an MP where they didn't have one. I'm sure Tony Blair is absolutely delighted."

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