SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: 03 June 1996 HOM PAGE: 04

MP's pride as 'the most hated man in Wales

PATRICK WINTOUR

Patrick Wintour on the minister who courted controversy by adding insult to injury

On New Labour: '[It is] nothing more than a wooden horse called Tony the Phoney Pony whose mission is to deceive the British people that the marauding socialists have disappeared' - the Commons, April 1996

On Labour's opposition to education vouchers: 'Members of the [Labour] front bench will, as usual, display their hypocrisy by taking full advantage of them in due course' - the Commons, January 1996

On Welsh Labour councillors: 'They're all the same. They're short, they're fat and they're slimy and they're fundamentally corrupt' - Welsh language Barn magazine, December 1994

On keeping secret Tory funding: 'People don't want to disclose what they have contributed for all sorts of reasons. People in the business world who create jobs want to see the continuation of the Conservative Party and its policies - June 1993

On MPs' greatest ambitions: 'Tea in the whips' office' - The House Magazine, July 1992

His 1992 election manifesto: 'Rod Richards and his wife Liz are determined to see that the people of Clwyd get the best chance for their future'

Rod Richards, according to his opposite numbers on the Labour front bench, revelled in the sobriquet of ''the most hated man in Wales''.

In his first major speech in the Commons, in March 1993, he provoked a walk-out by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs and had to be restrained three times in 26 minutes by the Deputy Speaker, Janet Fookes, for his language about Welsh nationalists and the corruption of Labour councillors.

In June 1994, the month before he entered government, he was forced by Speaker Betty Boothroyd to withdraw the claim that Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath, was a liar.

In December 1995, he was also rebuked by the Speaker for attacking Tony Blair's choice of a grant maintained school for his son, provoking Ms Boothroyd to say: ''The people of this country are sick and tired of the personal attacks that go across this House.''

He used an interview in an obscure Welsh language magazine, Barn (Opinion), to say of Welsh Labour councillors: ''They are all the same. They're short, they're fat, and they're slimy, and they are fundamentally corrupt.'' The Clwyd county council Labour group threatened to sue. Such language lost him friends in the Welsh Office when John Redwood, then Welsh Secretary, was trying to run a PR offensive with Labour local government. Mr Redwood was forced to tell him to apologise.

Mr Richards won one of the few safe Conservative seats in Wales with a majority of 6,050 in 1992. Never scared to take on Labour, he was one of the Tory MPs of the 1992 intake that decided to penetrate the then exclusively Labour Strangers Bar at Westminster.

In recent months, his more frequent appearances there led some to speculate that he was undergoing a personal crisis. There had been rumours that his marriage of 19 years was on the rocks. The speculation grew when he was one of the few Tory ministers not to vote on divorce reform.

Mr Richards also has an unusual background for a Tory MP. He was thrown out of university at Aberystwyth after a year in which he devoted more time to sport than his books. He joined the Royal Marines between 1969-71 before returning to university in 1974, this time to Swansea where he achieved a first in economics.

There followed four years with the security services in Northern Ireland, a period of employment listed in Dod's Parliamentary Companion as Ministry of Defence (Defence Intelligence Staff).

After a period as a mini cab driver in east London, he became a newsreader for the new SC4 Welsh language channel, a role he had to relinquish when he fought and lost the Vale of Glamorgan byelection.

He also ran a pub which landed him in a court battle over the non-payment of a bill, a dispute that cost him heavy legal costs.

For a short time he was the special adviser to the Welsh Secretary, David Hunt, but in 1989 he was selected to stand for Clywd North West, the former seat of Tory rebel Sir Anthony Meyer. He was also a member of the Welsh quango and landed a job on the Welsh Development Board.

His wife, Liz, worked for many years as a speech therapist in Cardiff, bringing up her three children, and running the pub while Mr Richards nursed his constituency.

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