LONDON — Cabinet Minister John Redwood resigned his post Monday as Welsh secretary to challenge Prime Minister John Major for leadership of the Conservative Party--and the British government.
Redwood, 44, announced he will run against Major in the leadership election July 4, which Major moved up from November in a gamble to establish his authority among the squabbling Tories.
Redwood said he had been shocked by Major's surprise announcement Thursday that he was resigning as Conservative leader--but not as head of government--to force his party critics to "put up or shut up." He also suggested that Major had ignored some of his hard-line ideas for toughening government policy.
A protege of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Redwood represents the party's right wing, which objects to the pro-Europe policies of Major's government. The right wing has called for declarations that Britain will never accept a single European currency, which Major has refused to give.
Redwood's move seemed to preclude other candidates from entering the first ballot of the race, to be decided by Conservative members of Parliament in a secret vote. Nominations close Thursday.
The entry of a Cabinet minister opposed to the prime minister came as a startling development to Major's supporters and promised a bitter struggle to determine who could best lead the faltering Conservative Party in the next general election.
Kenneth Clarke, the chancellor of the Exchequer and a party moderate, declared of Redwood, "I don't think the Conservative Party could win an election in a thousand years on this ultra-right-wing program."
Some commentators suggested that Major's strategy of moving up the leadership election had backfired, because he is now opposed by a serious candidate rather than a stalking horse.
Redwood has enjoyed a meteoric rise through academia, banking and politics. Elected to Parliament in 1987, he soon joined the government and was appointed to the Cabinet in 1993. He is described as brilliant and articulate, but cold and intellectually arrogant--with few personal friends in the House of Commons. Referring to his rigid, alien character, some politicians have dubbed him "Vulcan."
Under Tory party rules, the winner on the first ballot must gain an overall majority from the 329 Conservative members of Parliament--plus a 50-vote margin over his nearest rival. Most observers believe that Major will win. But he must win big to maintain his power.