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John Redwood: dark horse who fell at the second

John Redwood

John Redwood left the stalls in a Conservative leadership race for a second time when he declared his candidacy on 6 May, four days after John Major hung up his spurs as party leader in the wake of Labour's landslide election victory.

Mr Redwood, a former Welsh Secretary, is a highly intelligent Euro-sceptic and a thoroughbred Thatcherite. He was once the head of Lady Thatcher's Downing Street Policy Unit. His previous attempt to win the leadership came in 1995 when he was comprehensively beaten by John Major:

Fed up with constant talk of a challenge to his leadership Mr Major turned the tables on his opponents and challenged the right wing of the party to "put up or shut up". Mr Redwood was persuaded to "put up" but was beaten a distance by 218 votes to 89. Neither he nor his right-wing colleagues decided to "shut up" and he was always going to compete for the leadership a second time.

This time out, despite being an energetic campaigner, Redwood was never seen as a likely winner. As the competition began the bookies were offering odds of 16-1 on a Redwood victory.

However, Redwood proved himself a canny campaigner, frequently coming up with well-timed statements to tie in with other events. For example he used President Clinton's visit to focus Britain's independence within Europe. He also took the initiative in areas such as the environment, promising a greener conservatism.

The Redwood campaign received a slight boost when he won a mock election among party workers in Blaby, but despite this he had his work cut out to widen his appeal. The left of the party would not touch him, and many believe him and his kind to be the very people responsible for the huge defeat at the polls.

Mr Redwood also claimed that, as he resigned from the government in 1995, (in order to challenge Major), he cannot be held to account for its recent record. This, he believed, made him the only challenger truly equipped to say 'sorry' to the voters.

But he lacked the 'bloke next door image' of a Kenneth Clarke and was never a very popular figure with the public. In the 1995 contest he was labelled a 'Vulcan' which has done little for his public image. He is often perceived as rather cold and humourless.

Redwood scored 27 votes in the first ballot. This was much better than the pundits had predicted and was more than his two right-wing rivals, Peter Lilley and Michael Howard.

Mr Redwood wasted no time in asking for their support in the second round, saying he would "love to have them aboard". It was an offer they immediately refused, choosing instead to withdraw from the race and back William Hague. When they advised their supporters to do the same it lead Mr Redwood to fall at the second hurdle, where he came in third, polling 38 votes to Kenneth Clarke's 64 and William Hague's 62.

Despite his failure to make it to the third and final lap of the leadership race Mr Redwood did not stay out of the competition. The day after his defeat he entered into an extraordinary alliance with the left-winger Kenneth Clarke, in a last gasp attempt to stop William Hague becoming leader.

Redwood's decision to put his weight behind Clarke backfired horribly. The pact, which was likened by some to the cynical alliance Between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930s, went down badly with Clarke and Redwood supporters alike.

The pact, described as an "unnatural alliance" by Peter Lilley, infuriated Baroness Thatcher who immediately came out in favour of William Hague. The Clarke/Redwood alliance was not a success and it left William Hague to win a convincing victory of 92 votes to 70.

Backers included: Lord Tebbit, Marion Roe, John Wilkinson, David Wilshire, Andrew Hunter, Laurence Robertson, Julian Brazier, Howard Flight, Angela Browning, Iain Duncan-Smith, Oliver Letwin, Julian Lewis

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