An Interview with John Redwood MP

John Redwood
John Redwood

19th January 2016

John Redwood has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. He has held a number of ministerial positions both in Government and in Opposition, and highlights include being the Secretary of State for Wales and the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Today, he is prominent on backbenches. He advocates for the UK to leave the EU, and is part of the Eurosceptic Conservatives for Britain group.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main reasons for the UK to leave the European Union?
A: I want us to leave because I think we do not agree with the main purposes of the modern European Union. The modern European Union, as the name describes, wishes now to make rapid progress towards creating the United States of Europe. The central feature of the European Union scheme today is membership of the Euro currency. All countries are either in it, or will join it, with the exceptions of Denmark and the United Kingdom. It will become increasingly difficult to be a Euro out member of the European Union, with no intention of joining.
Another feature of the Union is the free movement of people and the wish to have border controls at the Union level. The United Kingdom has resisted part of this and still has its own border controls. It is quite obvious from our current political debate that there is very little support for the idea of creating a single external border and being part of the general moving of peoples within a larger country. Europe will want to have a strong common foreign policy and defence policy, and again, the United Kingdom is very reluctant to surrender her independent seat on the Security Council to pool all her weapons systems with continental countries and to accept the commonality of action, which will be expected or required in due course. So, I think when you’re in a club and it has a series of aims which are no longer your aims, the honest and decent thing to do is to admit that and to leave. In a way, we joined what we thought was a cricket club, a trading body, and now there’s compulsory rugby, and compulsory soccer, and compulsory swimming, and we don’t want to do any of those things and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either the club’s subscription or membership.

Q: Do you think the Conservative Party will be split over this issue?
A: Well, most Conservative members agree with me that we need to leave. They, like me, believe that we will be more democratic, better off, freer, if we’re out of the European Union than if we remain in it, so I think most of us will be campaigning to leave.
There will be some Conservative members, and perhaps many more Conservative Members of Parliament, who will be campaigning to stay in on changed terms. I think this can be a civilised debate, where we accept our differences. After all, it would be a dead political party that didn’t have some differences in opinion within it; this is just a rather public and large one, and so, I hope once a referendum has decided the issue, then the party will come back together again quite rapidly, as we agree about more things than we disagree about.

A Selfie of Me with Mr Redwood
A Selfie of Me with Mr Redwood

Q: What effect do you think Jeremy Corbyn will have on the Labour Party? Do you think that they will be able to contest the next General Election?
A: Of course they will contest the next General Election, and they might even contest the next General Election with Mr Corbyn as their leader. Mr Corbyn is clearly very popular with the membership of the Labour Party: I think we need to recall that he won a stunning victory; that he didn’t just beat his opponents, but he beat them by a huge margin in the first round. You would normally expect a contest between four senior people in a party to go to more than one round, but Mr Corbyn won outright on the first vote, with a very strong majority of all party members. So we know he has a very strong mandate, and that I think that gives Mr Corbyn every right to lead his party more in the direction of his choosing.
His problem is that his main opponents are elected Members of Parliament, rather than members of the party, and he has issues with how he manages and leads his Members of Parliament, and he has a big issue with the extent to which he compromises with them. It appears at the moment that he wishes to win the argument with them, or to win the vote with them over opposing the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine force, but not to fight them over Europe. I think Mr Corbyn probably would like rather less European interference in our affairs, and I think he’s decided to do a deal with his party which is broadly sympathetic to the European Union.
How popular or unpopular will Corbyn policies be? It looks like they are only popular with a 30% or so minority of the British public, so that isn’t a terribly good basis for entering a General Election. But I think we need to see how it develops, because there will be further arguments between Mr Corbyn and his Members of Parliament over what their stance should be, and it’s even possible that some elements of the Corbyn package are popular. I think that Conservatives too readily write everything off which Mr Corbyn does, because he is taking Labour down in the polls and he has some rather extreme positions, but if you take, for example, his opposition to fighting wars in the Middle East, that is probably a more popular policy.

Q: As China is growing at its slowest rate for 25 years, do you think the recent spate of deals with the UK are beneficial, or do you think the UK is exposing itself too much to global economies?
A: I think the UK has no choice but to expose itself to global economies. The UK is, by tradition, a big world trading economy with a very large proportion of its activity relative to other countries involved in importing and exporting goods and services to other parts of the world. I don’t wish us to change it and I don’t think you could change it quickly.
The United Kingdom has rightly identified the emergence of China as the world’s second largest economy now. You rightly point out that Chinese growth last year was slow by recent Chinese standards, but the growth rate was still close to 7%, which is still one of the highest growth rates of any country in the world. You need to remember that now we’ve had 25 years of fast growth in China, the base is so much bigger. So, if you carry on compounding Chinese growth even at lower rates, the amount it adds to the world economy is still very significant. China is still a very important generator of total world growth. It is a big proportion of it because it’s relatively fast on a big base. I think the good news in the Chinese figures, contrary to some of the pessimistic pundits, was that there does seem to have been reasonable growth last year in China and I suspect we’ve now seen the worst. I think there was a very noticeable slowdown in China recently. I think now, perhaps, they’re through the worst and Chinese authorities have scope to ease. I don’t want to go into detail on individual transactions that the United Kingdom has entered into with China, but I think taken overall, it is right that the UK needs to trade more with China. We have been relatively backward in getting a decent share of Chinese trade and it has to be two way.

Q: Which parts of the world do you think are likely to grow the fastest?
A: I think the current consensus view is that China and India will be the faster growing of the larger emerging market economies, despite the Chinese difficulties and slowdown. The United States of America will still be growing at around 2%, or a bit more in 2016. The United States of America, of course, has the lead in technology. I think technology is still a very exciting area: we’re living in the digital revolution, where the coming of the internet is transforming business models and people’s ability to undertake activity. The Europeans have been struggling with the very difficult banking crisis superimposed on the currency crisis, inspired by structural difficulties in the Euro. But it looks as if there will be better recovery in the European Union as well.

Q: Do you think that India will be able to compete against China?
A: I think India is now growing a little bit faster than China. I think India will do certain things very well, there’s been good progress in India in building a bigger middle class and in achieving high standards of education and technical expertise in a number of areas, which puts India in a relatively good position. I mean, it’s true that Indian per capita average levels of income are still below those of China, and so there is some catching up to do, but I think that India has a perfectly good future. I think the United Kingdom government was right not only to seek to promote more trade and contact with China, but also with India, and there was a very successful visit by Prime Minister Modi recently from India, which I think helped.

Q: Do you think that people should have different jobs before they enter politics?
A: I think it’s probably a good idea, if you’re thinking of wanting to be a Member of Parliament, with the commitment that entails, to do some other things first. Most people’s lives are quite long and it’s probably a good idea to come into Parliament having done other things, so that you have some experience of how the rest of the world works. There will be others who have taken a different route, who will say that they were so interested in politics, they wanted to start off as a political advisor or secretary and then work their way up, and that works for some people. I don’t wish to decry people who do that, but I think Parliament is stronger and better for having a wide range of people from very different backgrounds, and so, I think it is good if a number of people come in having done other things. I certainly chose the latter route. I’m glad I did, because I found the things I learnt and discovered working in competitive businesses useful in my various roles as a Member of Parliament, offering criticism on the way the public sector is run, or trying to find solutions to problems.

Q: What life lessons have you learned over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Well, I think you learn a lesson most days of the week, if you’re sensible. We can always improve, and the one piece of advice that I’d venture to give is always see what you can learn from a situation. Learning is not confined to school or university, and in some ways when you graduate, your learning begins: going to school and university should equip you with the skills of reading and analysis and criticism, but then you need to fill your mind with real life examples and with problems that you wish to help resolve. So, each day should be about learning, as well as doing and giving. I always found it useful, each day, to think to myself: how can I improve this? How can I do better in that? Why did that go wrong? Why did that work?
I still find it very interesting to meet people who are really successful, because I find it fascinating to learn how they’re so good at something, and what it was that led them to what they do. I find the normal common thread behind all of them, whether they are willing to tell you or not, is hard work. You normally find that people who are really good at things are good at them because they practice a lot.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years that you think influenced your success?
A: I think the thing I learnt in my teenage years, whilst I was still at school and before I went to university was this: what I learnt and how well I did was down to me. It wasn’t the responsibility of my teachers; they were there to help and guide me. I think as soon as you get to the point in life when you realise that how well you do at something is mainly down to what you put into it, how you approach it, whether you’ve got the right mental approach – then you can start to make more progress.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I think the one thing I regret is that, because I was keen to succeed academically, I read a lot of books, and I didn’t play as much cricket as I would have liked as a younger man. But I sought to make up for it subsequently: I’ve now played rather more cricket as an older individual. It’s not quite the same because you can’t inject the same pace into the bowling as you would have done at eighteen, or twenty. But there we are, we all have wasted youths and perhaps I read too many books.

Q: Finally, who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: I guess the most interesting person I’ve met, because I knew her very well and worked very closely with her, was Margaret Thatcher. She had a complex personality, caricatured often quite falsely by her critics and enemies. It was a privilege to work with her and to help her through an interesting period of transformation in the United Kingdom, when various things had to change and improve to set us on a road to greater freedom and prosperity.
I also think we are, as they used to say, dwarfs on the shoulders of giants in many ways. You can learn from people in the past, and so, in my youth, I was very conscious that I was trying to learn from the dead; you read the works of quite a lot of dead people. On some occasions, I was just blown away by how good they were: you read Shakespeare and you think ‘My goodness, how do you write so well?’
At other times, I read people and I couldn’t believe they were so influential. I read Marx, and I so disagreed with everything he was saying, with the programme he sent out and what I thought lay behind it. I felt I had to spend part of my early years in politics dealing with the Marxist folly and trying to reverse that. Marx had written the Communist Party Manifesto, which was an extremely popular and well-read book, and I wrote the much less well-known Popular Capitalist Manifesto. But that was the manifesto that lay behind the Thatcher revolution, and how we created greater freedom and more free enterprise into a world movement on the back of what we did here in the United Kingdom. So that was an exciting part of my life, but it arose out of coming across Marx as a student, and being really quite horrified by what I read.

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