THE man bankrolling the launch of a new political party branded as fascist by the Scottish Tories yesterday broke his silence to reassure potential supporters: "I’m not a dictator - I just sound off a bit about things that annoy me."
Robert Durward, a Lanarkshire businessman, has joined forces with Mark Adams - a former Downing Street civil servant once accused of leaking Cabinet papers to undermine Tony Blair’s government - to launch the right-wing New Party, with plans to field candidates in the next Scottish parliamentary elections.
Until now, the pair have been reluctant to go into detail about the party’s policies, and doubts have been cast on whether the party exists as anything other than a publicity campaign to draw attention to Mr Durward’s lengthy list of pet hates.
Yesterday Mr Durward, who has spoken out against environmentalists and "witchhunts" against drink drivers, and once suggested allowing the army to run schools and hospitals, finally came out into the open to defend his involvement and to counter claims of fascism.
"I’m certainly not a dictator, I’ve no intentions of being a dictator," he said.
"My staff think this is hilarious, by the way. I’ve been getting a certain type of salute when I appear every morning, but it is certainly a bit hurtful to be called a fascist. That is the last thing I am."
Mr Durward said he had a tendency to "sound off a bit about things that annoy me", but played down the importance of his views.
"I’m not a political animal. I’m just a fed-up businessman who’s trying to help bring about a better system because if we don’t do it we’re going to be left with nothing," he said.
He defended his suggestion, made in a letter to a newspaper two years ago and seized on by David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory leader, that the army be brought in to run public services. "What I said two years ago about the way the government was handling the foot-and-mouth crisis, to take that and say I want to impose martial law on the country was quite out of order," he said.
Mr Durward admitted no candidates had been chosen and the New Party currently existed only in name and on a website registered to Mr Adams. But he insisted that, on its planned launch in Scotland next month, it would pose a viable political challenge to the other parties. "It is very serious, it has been building up and getting built up for almost a year now," he said.
"There are an awful lot of people want to be prospective MPs - MSPs I should say - but the party is very keen that anyone we do take on as a prospective candidate is very good quality, someone with wide experience who will give of their best. There is a problem with getting all these people vetted in time as well because we don’t want any connections with the British National Party or these type of people. These type of things are total anathema to us."
Mr Durward defended the political views that had attracted such opprobrium. "I’m not the official spokesman for the party. My views are well-enough documented and they are probably, to some people, a bit radical, but they are strictly my own views," he said.
It is not the first time Mr Durward and Mr Adams have worked together on a political campaign. Two years ago they joined forces - again with Mr Durward supplying the cash - for the launch of the Scientific Alliance, an organisation set up to counter prevailing environmental thinking.
Both men had good reason to create an organisation that would act as a thorn in the side of the government. Mr Durward, who owns Cloburn Quarry near his home in south Lanarkshire, blamed environmentalists for the aggregates tax which imposed a levy of 1.60 on every ton of the red granite he extracted from his operation. Mr Adams, a former private secretary to Tony Blair and John Major, left Downing Street in 1997 amid claims that he was disappointed at his lack of promotion. When he was named as the prime suspect in a damaging leak of Cabinet papers on the Labour government’s decision to back the Millennium Dome, he refused to deny the accusations and joked that it could be good for his public relations business.
Yesterday, Mr Adams was adamant that despite its doubters, the new venture would be a success. "It is a centre-Right organisation, trying to appeal to disaffected Tories, to people who voted Labour in 1997 and 2001 but are thinking again," he said.
He admitted that Mr Durward had "very strong views" on the aggregates tax but he denied that was the reason the party had been set up.
Mr Durward insisted he has not used the Scientific Alliance or the New Party to attack the tax but after the Scientific Alliance was launched in 2001, he told another newspaper that he believed there was a need for an organisation to balance "all this environmental stuff ... much of which is unjustified, such as the climate change levy. We also have the aggregates tax, which will put the UK quarry industry out of business".
Mr Durward also wrote to newspapers under the name of the Scientific Alliance complaining about environmental activism. In one letter to the Financial Times, he wrote: "It will not reflect well on the developed world if we allow ourselves to be herded like sheep into fear, ignorance and environmental superstition."
The thoughts of Robert Durward
" We must ditch this politically correct, self-destructing agenda and get back to the basics of promoting a forward looking, exciting and fun society, in which we may all prosper. Perhaps it is now time for Tony to try the ‘fourth’ way, declare martial law and let the army sort out our schools, hospitals and roads as well. Who knows, they might even manage to put the Great back into Britain." - 10 April 2001.
"I am not in any shape or form a fascist and I have no desire to use the army in schools, hospitals or transport. Martial law plays no part in our policies which are more democratic and will lead to more freedom, for the individual, than the policies of any of the other mainstream parties." - 23 January 2003
"I suppose what I’m hoping to achieve at the end of the day is better quality of government. "
"I have nothing against the young but I don’t think you should be looking to be an MP at 20 years old . "
"Nothing is cheap nowadays but you can’t buy a country, that’s obvious. You can pour as much money as you like into a political party but it won’t do any good unless voters like what they see."
"I’m not going to say too much about the Conservative Party but I have always been quite decent about them. It’s not particularly the Tories we want to get rattled, it is the Labour Party."
"It’s not my theme, policies, all I’m trying to do is get more professional people in who know what they are talking about."