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The rich recluse masterminding Britain's new party

WEALTHY, opinionated and with an axe to grind, the man bankrolling the launch of what is billed as Britain’s newest political party is hardly the sort of person to keep his views to himself.

Outspoken on Europe, an avowed enemy of environmentalists, an opponent of "witchhunts" against drink-drivers and an advocate of letting the army sort out schools, hospitals, and roads, Robert Wilson Menzies Durward, 51, has a track record of putting his money where his mouth is when he wants to get his political point across.

And yet the Lanark businessman is proving uncharacteristically reluctant to emerge from the shadows to take credit for his role in the creation of a party so right-wing that the Scottish Tory leader, David McLetchie, has been moved to dismiss it as "fascist and undemocratic".

Requests for interviews with the man behind the New Party - the name, coincidentally, of Oswald Mosley’s first party - are being declined politely to avoid muddying the political waters with personal detail.

But it is the personal detail about Mr Durward that makes the promised launch of his party so fascinating - and raises so many questions about his and its credibility.

For this is not the first time Mr Durward has stepped into the public arena to defend all that is dear to him, and what really upsets him is something called the aggregate tax: a levy of 1.60 on every ton of sand, gravel or crushed rock extracted by his operation at Cloburn Quarry at Pettinain, Lanark.

It is that tax which first prompted Mr Durward to branch out from his hobby of writing letters to newspapers to share his views on a range of subjects and to set up the British Aggregates Association (BAA), "representing and protecting" the commercial interests of Britain’s independent quarry operators. With Mr Durward as its director and sharing a telephone number with his Cloburn quarry, it has demonstrated a particular antipathy towards environmentalists.

In its mission statement, the BAA notes: "There are positive signs that the government is now beginning to realise the havoc that aggregate tax would cause and that many of the recent environmental proposals have come about as a result of transient lobbying from minority pressure groups and have little scientific relevance."

Mr Durward has thrown himself into the role of director with enthusiasm, wasting no opportunity to criticise the government for the tax which is biting into the profits that have enabled him to buy an impressive home near Biggar, in South Lanarkshire, surrounded by large grounds, and funded a lifestyle including membership of Gleneagles golf club.

Those who have met him know him as Bob, an affable sort but little-known on the social scene. The son of a cinema owner, he was born in 1951 but there is no record of a marriage. His father died in 1994 and he has one brother, William Durward, a consultant neurologist living in Glasgow.

But if details of his private life are hard to come by, his political views are not and, by 2001, he had decided that something more had to be done to combat the environmentalists. This time he linked up with a former Downing Street civil servant, Mark Adams.

Mr Adams, who served as private secretary to John Major and Tony Blair, the former and current prime ministers, had set up his own public relations firm, Foresight Communications, in January that year. Together, the two men launched the Scientific Alliance, an organisation whose stated aim was to present a "rational, scientific approach to the environmental debate".

Recruiting a number of respected scientists as advisers, Mr Durward provided funding to get the organisation off the ground. With offices in London, and a website registered in the name of Cloburn quarry, he now had a vehicle to nip at the ankles of the environmentalists. who were tormenting him.

Writing under the auspices of the alliance and using its registered address in Golden Cross House in Duncannon Street, London, he railed at the "profligate" cost of talks on climate change. He was, he said, "a businessman who is totally fed up with this environmental stuff ... much of which is unjustified, such as the climate change levy".

There was another important problem he wanted to publicise: "We also have the aggregates tax, which will put the UK quarry industry out of business."

Two years on, the Scientific Alliance appears to have served its purposes and, yesterday, after some uncertainty, the switchboard it shares with a number of other firms denied any knowledge of Mr Durward’s existence. Matthew Drinkwater, the one person responding to calls to its offices, could also be contacted by ringing the offices of Foresight Communications.

Mr Durward, however, has not retired gracefully from the public arena. Instead, he and Mr Adams are back in business, this time promising a new political party: "Providing Britain with a new start," says the slogan on the website registered in the name of Mr Adams.

Mr Durward is said to be hoping to run candidates in elections in Scotland and Wales, and launch in Scotland. Other businessmen are involved, they say, but they are not prepared to reveal their identities.

"This party is not about personalities, it is about policies," says the website. "If the individuals concerned were to be identified it would simply result in the debate on our policies being overtaken by a debate on the background and motivation of these people".

Those policies, however, remain vague. Mr Adams says the party wants to scrap the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and the website urges visitors to vote on a range of policies: should regionalisation be halted to keep Britain together? Should most taxation be direct, based on the ability to pay? Should we consider leaving the European Union if we fail to achieve fundamental reform?

Significantly, Mr Durward has let it be known that the creation of the party owes much to the BAA’s failure to overturn the aggregate tax. Some of the environmentalists who have found themselves on the receiving end of the previous campaigns now wonder whether the party is simply another vehicle for Mr Durward to vent his frustrations with the authorities; a hobby he has pursued through the pages of Britain’s newspapers for more than a decade.

In 1992, he condemned the Christmas drink-drive campaign as "simplistic" and "arrogant". The percentage of accidents caused solely by drink-driving was, he argued, very small.

"The police would have us believe that drink-driving and speeding are the main cause of death and injury on the roads. They are not," he wrote.

Three years later, he wrote again in praise of a correspondent who questioned "the witch-hunt for drunk-drivers", blaming the majority of accidents on bad driving when sober.

Two years ago, he petitioned the Scottish Parliament to introduce legislation to force slower drivers to use passing places to allow other traffic to pass safely and "to ensure that sufficient passing places exist which are adequately signposted".

He has attacked the "media-fuelled circus of Kyoto", the "bluster emanating from the collective witch-hunt referred to kindly as the green movement" and pacifists. "Scratch the surface of any innocent looking pacifist and you will often find the narrow-minded, malevolent reality," he says.

He has also criticised the running of Gleneagles golf course, and complained about " the spectacle the Scottish people are making of themselves over the new parliament building".

He also wrote: "Perhaps it is now time for Tony Blair 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."

The Conservatives are said to be concerned that they could lose votes to another party of the Right, but they may be worrying unduly.

If Mr Durward’s previous record is anything to go by, within a couple of years the New Party may be little more than a disembodied voice at the end of a phone in a London PR office.

ON THE SOAPBOX BUT NO CLEAN PAIRS OF HEELS

MANY political parties have made extravagant claims about breaking the political mould. Last year, the businessman and publisher, Gordon Young, announced his intention to launch his Scottish Business Party, based on his belief that the shortfalls of society can all be tackled by the politics of the boardroom.

Mr Young, 35, the founder of the Carnyx publishing group, argued that business is the answer to everything: proper roads, jobs, healthcare and a good education and has given his party ten years to succeed.

Despite the entrepreneur’s assurances that his policies could stop Scotland’s business community losing its dynamism, there has been little news of his intentions over recent months, casting increasing doubt over the proposed launch date for the Business Party next month.

Sir James Goldsmith founded the anti-European Referendum Party to contest the 1997 general election, and unsuccessfully contested several seats with various candidates including himself and his friend, the right-wing maverick, John Aspinall.

Sir James, who fathered eight children by four women, was diagnosed with cancer in early 1993, at about the time he began funding the fight for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. He was worth an estimated 1.15 billion before his death in 1997, aged 64.

After his death, the Referendum Party subsequently merged with the Democracy Movement, founded by a Yorkshire businessman, Paul Sykes, who pledged 20 million for the organisation.

Other new parties have been founded with less clear-cut agendas in mind. The most famous and instantly recognisable of these was Screaming Lord Sutch and his Official Monster Raving Loony party.

Mr Sutch ran for parliament 39 times, first as the National Teenage Party candidate in the 1963 Stratford-on-Avon by-election, which followed the Profumo scandal, but it was later during the decade of Thatcherism that he really earned his fame.

Always visible in the corner of the televised election coverage as a spectacular loser, Mr Sutch stood against Mrs Thatcher and later Tony Benn in Chesterfield. An outsider throughout his life, Sutch committed suicide in 1999, aged 58. He was said to have been deeply affected by the loss of his mother in 1997.

The Natural Law Party decided to wind up its political activities in January 2001 when it decided not to field any more candidates in future elections because of the lack of media coverage over its stated ambition to create an ideal society.

Founded in April 1992, it was led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose holistic theories form its policies. It most famously argued in favour of world peace and opposed the NATO bombings in Kosovo, but was largely-known for the yogic "flying" activities of its members.

 
 
 

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