The rumour that, should Liz Truss become our next PM, Sir John Redwood may enter her cabinet is the best political news I’ve heard for a long time.
He would add something to our frontline politics that has been missing for decades: strength of character and intellect. Sir John is often likened to Margaret Thatcher, but the past politician I think he most closely resembles is Enoch Powell, if perhaps in a lighter version.
The same logical mind, a similar education (Redwood holds a PhD in history), the same passion breaking through the veneer of intellectual aloofness, the same slightly wild glimmer in his eyes – sometimes it sounds as if Enoch Powell came back as John Redwood.
Just like Powell, Redwood is staunch in defence of his principles, which by itself makes him different from his colleagues, most of whom don’t seem to possess any discernible principles whatsoever.
Sir John lacks the lightness of touch that many consider de rigueur for popular appeal. The assumption people are supposed to make is that a great statesman lurks behind the mask of louche flippancy. In fact, there is usually nothing behind it but louche flippancy.
We aren’t going to have a real conservative government no matter who moves into Number 10. But at least we’ll have one real conservative in it, should Sir John get into the inner sanctum.
The only other cabinet post he has had before was that of Secretary of State for Wales in John Major’s government. There he committed a bit of a gaffe at the Welsh Conservative Party conference, where he tried to mime singing the Welsh anthem whose words he didn’t know.
Well, at least Redwood made an effort to pretend, which isn’t his core strength. More important, in 1995 Redwood returned to the Treasury the unspent £100 million of Wales’s block grant. I can’t think offhand of any other politician who would voluntarily relinquish his budget for public good.
Sir John is a consistent Thatcherite who, as far as I know, has never deviated from that allegiance. Thus he fought tooth and nail against Britain’s entry into the EU under Major, and just as passionately for her to leave it under Cameron.
Unlike so many Brexiteers, Redwood objects to the very concept of the EU, not just Britain’s membership in it. He correctly regards that contrivance as an artificial construct bound to implode sooner or later, burying its members under the rubble. That’s why Redwood once remarked that leaving the EU was “more important than which party wins the next election or who is the prime minister.”
Again, that’s not a typical politician speaking, is it? That statement was a pledge of allegiance to the national good even at the expense of his own career. Would Boris Johnson ever say something like that? Would Sunak? Would Truss?
Sir John stood for Tory leadership a couple of times in the 90s. He would have been my first choice hands down, but no one asked me.
Those who were asked were put off by exactly the same qualities as those that appeal to me: substance over charisma, commitment to principles rather than to populism, conservatism barely diluted with compromises to socialism, some deficit of flexibility, the tendency to speak about serious matters seriously, without adopting the persona of a jolly-hockey-sticks Englishman.
Perhaps Sir John doesn’t appeal to our thoroughly corrupted electorate – he is too different from others to come across as a modern politician. But God knows we have enough politicos happy to offer voters change for a £9 note, all in threes. They are so ready to steer the country towards disaster that a heavy foot on the brake wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s perhaps an indication of the lamentable state of our politics that someone like John Redwood comes across as an exception. His standard should be about average in a government of statesmen. In a government of self-serving spivs, it’s way above top drawer.
P.S. One hears shrill calls for peace in the Ukraine, mostly coming from people who had salivated over Putin for years until realising that such excretions would peg them as either madmen or Russian agents. But translation is in order: when these chaps talk about peace in the Ukraine, what they really mean is surrender of the Ukraine.