British Conservative Seeks a Remake Of Himself in the Image of Newt

NEWT-THINK is going global.

A member of Britain's ruling Conservatives is turning to the Republican Speaker of the US House to revive his troubled party, which is in the market for fresh ideas after 15 years in power.

John Redwood - who tried to unseat Prime Minister John Major as party chief this summer - last week set up his own think-tank, the Conservative Foundation 2000. Next month, he'll travel to Washington and meet guru Gingrich himself.

He clearly hopes to duplicate the speaker's successes across the Atlantic. Outlining the goals of the think tank, he already has the basics of Gingrich's philosophy down pat: "We have problems in common: how we reform welfare, how we contain and control the ever-growing public sector debts and budget deficits," Mr. Redwood said.

Meanwhile, Conservatives are scrambling to be thrifty in their own right by wiping out a $26 million party debt.

Brian Mawhinney, newly appointed Conservative Party chairman, says he is determined to persuade big corporations and private donors to help him remove the red ink from the party's books in the run-up to the genera-election expected next year or early in 1997.

Party officials say the debt is making it hard for Conservative Central Office to help the local party organizations in the face of lively campaigning by the Labour Party.

Mr. Mawhinney concedes that the debt is huge by British political standards, and his officials admit privately that Labour is likely to have more money than the Conservatives when general-election campaigning heats up. Labour Party officials say they have nearly $8 million in their election fund already, and hope for about $14 million by 1997.

Major, look out

Redwood's bid to become a British Newt came as no surprise to his supporters or to members of Major's government who see him as a highly capable intellectual determined to mount another leadership challenge next year.

Supporters of Redwood, who was a member of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's inner circle of advisers, say he is set on becoming the standard-bearer of the Conservative Right.

Redwood said his think tank would be an "open house, rooted in and working for the party."

He proposes tax cuts, a cutback in civil-service staff levels, reform of the criminal justice system, promotion of individual responsibility, the placing of more security cameras in shopping centers, and payment of welfare benefits "only where there is no other option."

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The foundation has yet to attract to itself a team of acknowledged "new thinkers," but Redwood's friends say that is his intention.

Margaret Thatcher, during her 13-year premiership, relied heavily on right-wing intellectuals to supply her with the body of policies the world later came to call "Thatcherism."

Her own leading guru was Sir Keith Joseph who founded the Conservative Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank that derived much of its inspiration from the theories of Friedrich von Hayek, a dedicated foe of socialism who was based in London in the post-1945 years.

Redwood's plan to produce a coherent set of new conservative ideas comes at a moment when the Major government remains deeply unpopular.

The upheaval among Conservatives also coincides with problems Labour opposition leader Tony Blair is having with left-wing socialists who want to challenge his party's reform program. As Mr. Blair tries to make his party more moderate, ardent left-wingers are trying to hold him to the party's socialist roots.

As Mawhinney and his financial advisers try to cut back on the Conservative Party debt, Redwood's initiative is facing them with a new kind of problem.

Prime Minister Major stands for middle-of-the-road conservatism, whereas Redwood wants the Tories to veer toward the right wing of Britain's political spectrum.

For example, where Major says Britain should wait before deciding on a single European currency, Redwood during the leadership campaign made it plain that he opposes European monetary union.

His think tank is widely expected to develop arguments against a single European currency. The Major-Redwood rift in Conservative Party ranks is serious enough. But there is another.

On the Conservative right, Redwood has his own foe in the shape of Michael Portillo, Major's defense secretary.

Like Redwood, Mr. Portillo opposes a single currency and other moves to integrate the European Union. He too would like to shrink the welfare state.

Which right is right?

As large industrial companies are asked to help the Conservatives financially, they will be dealing with a party that is split not only between right and center, but within its right wing also.

Opinion polls in the last two years have strongly suggested that divisions in Tory ranks are a main reason why voters have been failing to support the party.

Among big companies that have stopped writing checks for the Conservative Party are United Biscuits and the Glaxo Wellcome Corporation.

Conservative Party fund-raisers say they are planning a blitz on companies and individuals throughout Britain in coming months.

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