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Home > Politics

The press vs. John Redwood: What's their beef?

Defending John Redwood is about as fashionable as going out on Saturday night wearing leg warmers, deely boppers and a denim jacket with WHITESNAKE written on the back in Tippex. But something rankles about the way Redwood has been attacked by the press recently...

8 August 2003

If you've managed to miss this earth-shattering story, it's as follows: Redwood is going out with Nikki Page, a former model and Conservative political wannabe. Redwood is married, but it appears his marriage broke down over a year ago. His children are grown up, aged 20 and 24. Page has been separated from her husband for some time.

But before we attempt to defend Redwood, let's be clear: this man is a hopeless New Right wonk. Redwood recently wrote in the Sunday Times:

It is the politician’s job to make his subject interesting... to find a way of selling their fascination [for politics] within the free and open marketplace of the modern consumer-oriented newspaper.

Snappy stuff. Sounds like somebody's lavatory has got a copy of the latest Academy of Marketing Science Review next to it. Thank God Redwood doesn’t write novels. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, not unlike the economic 'boom/bust' short-termism that has dogged successive post-war governments since 1945."

With Redwood, the subtext of the press reporting has been 'Nerdy Redwood trades in frumpy old wife for ex-model Tory babe'. This is a bit unfair. Nikki Page is 51 and Redwood is 52, so he’s not exactly the Mick Jagger of political obscurity. And Redwood isn't really having an 'illicit' 'affair' because neither he nor Page were in functioning relationships anyway.

And to be honest, if a politician leaves their wife/husband for someone else, can we automatically condemn them? A failed marriage isn't the same as sleazy Archer-style sexual opportunism. Relationships break up; it’s a fact of life, and there’s something hypocritical about the press and the public criticising the personal behaviour of politicians when they can't swear they wouldn't do the same thing.

That said, one of the main reasons Redwood has been roundly slagged is because he was involved with the "back to basics" campaign.

This campaign was intended to put personal responsibility at the top of the agenda and hurl the Tories back into power, but in fact it was about as successful as Hear’Says’ solo careers. Quite a few Conservative politicians were wary of this overtly moralistic campaign at the time, and several have since regretted it, not least Grey John, who couldn't resist dipping his Major in Edwina's Currie. Uh-guh-uhk (shudder of revulsion).

Redwood is known for having a go at single mothers as part of the 'back to basics' campaign. But according to Redwood his criticism was of the 'trend' for young women to have kids 'with no apparent intention of even trying a marriage or stable relationship with the father'.

His speech of the time said: 'Before granting state aid, [the state should] pursue the father and see whether it is possible for the father to make a financial contribution, or even a fuller contribution by offering the normal love and support that fathers have offered down the ages to their families.'

This seems to mean making it harder for single mums to get benefits and getting the money off absentee dads instead. In the worst case scenario this would make single mums financially dependent on men whose income is minimal to non-existent, or who are immature, unreliable or don’t actually give a toss. But on a more charitable interpretation, it's roughly how the Child
Support Agency works.

After finding out about Redwood's new squeeze, the press basically said: 'Redwood - what a hypocrite.' But it’s not really comparing like with like, and unless you’re incredibly PC, Redwood’s comments aren’t really very controversial. There are women/girls who become single mums without much thought for the consequences, and the idea that absent fathers should take some sort of responsibility for their offspring is hardly neo-Con

But perhaps the oddest thing about the slating of Redwood is that the press seems to think it’s odd he’s having sex because he’s 'the Vulcan'.

This unfortunate moniker is mainly the result of Redwood’s rather cold manner and passing physical similarity to the sexless Mr Spock. So the press gives Redwood this rather inane nickname, then slates him when he fails to live up to it. Totally illogical.

Apart from Redwood’s New Right 'fend for yourself' politics, the Spock tag may also come from the fact that Redwood is actually quite intelligent and articulate, as his various TV appearances demonstrate. The Spock nickname neatly fits with the hackneyed view of intelligent people as Vulcans, Plain Jane Superbrains and possibly even evil scientists (and as we all know from the media, scientists are a secretive cabal of evil geniuses, constantly attempting to deceive the public and commit crimes against nature).

John Redwood: you may not agree with his politics or his economics, but [WARNING: LAME ECONOMICS JOKE AHEAD] on a personal level: laissez faire.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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