British Conservative Politician
Born 1947

Roderick Richards was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Clwyd North West between 1992 and 1997, being later the Conservative leader in the National Assembly for Wales for a brief period in the years 1998 to 1999, before his political career slowly unravelled in a rather colourful fashion.

Early life and career

Roderick or Rod Richards was born in Llanelli on the 12th March 1947 into a Welsh speaking family, being the son of Ivor George Richards and Lizzie Jane Richards (née Evans). He was educated at Llandovery College and the University of Wales where he read economics and graduated with a first class degree, following which he served in the Royal Marines under a short service commission from 1969 until 1971. He was employed at the Ministry of Defence between 1977 and 1983, but left to join BBC Wales as a news and current affairs presenter on their Welsh language broadcasts.

Richards had ambitions of pursuing a political career and first stood as the Conservative candidate for Carmarthen at the General Election of 1987, only to see the Labour majority increase. He was then selected to fight the Vale of Glamorgan by-election following the death of Raymond Gower. The Vale of Glamorgan was a reasonably secure Conservative seat at the time, but with a Conservative government in office and suffering from the usual midterm dip in popularity, when the by-election took place on the 4th May 1989, the seat was won by the Labour candidate John Smith with a majority of 6,028 votes. 1

However in the following year he was chosen as the Conservative candidate for Clwyd North West in place of Anthony Meyer, who had been deselected by the local Conservative Association for his persistent disloyalty. Since Clwyd North West was regarded as the safest Conservative seat in Wales, having been held by the party since 1935, a place in Parliament now seemed assured. Richards duly left the BBC in 1989 in order to focus on his political career, and briefly served as political adviser to the Secretary of State for Wales, David Hunt, before being duly returned to the House of Commons at the General Election of 1992 with a majority of 6,050.

Life in Westminster

As a Welsh speaking member representing a Welsh constituency, Richards was something of a rarity in Conservative circles and therefore enjoyed a rapid promotion into government. He became a parliamentary private secretary to the Foreign Office minister David Heathcoat-Amory in 1993, and in the following year was appointed parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Welsh Office serving under John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales.

It was here that Richards truly displayed his combative style of politics when he accused Labour councils in Wales of "sleaze, corruption and gerrymandering"; an accusation that incensed a dozen or so Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs that they stormed out of the House in protest. Of course Richards was simply retaliating, as earlier that day Dale Campbell-Savours had accused Alan Duncan of having "ripped off" the ratepayers of Westminster by promoting the Government's right-to-buy council house policy, but it explained why he earned himself the appellation of 'Redwood's Rottweiler'. Richards subsequently excelled himself in December 1994 when he wrote an article in Welsh language magazine Barn, in which he referred to Welsh Labour councillors as being "short, fat, slimy and fundamentally corrupt". 2

Redwood forced him to apologise for that particular offence, but Richards nevertheless continued as parliamentary under-secretary when Redwood was replaced by William Hague in 1995, but his ministerial career came to a shuddering close soon afterwards with the revelation on the 2nd June 1996 that he had been conducting an affair with a public relations executive named Julia Felthouse.

With deadlines such as 'Minister's bondage romp with divorcee' and 'We did it five times in a night! He's wonderful in bed ... I'll never bother with younger men again' the News of the World gleefully provided the salacious details and placed Roderick on the 'Tories' roll of dishonour'. Ms Felthouse, whom it was later revealed had left her husband because she "craved better sex", provided graphic details of their activities which included "kinky bondage sex sessions" and "sex games in the Commons". Although Richards thereby earned himself the names of 'Dyno-Rod' and 'Hot Rod', he handed in his resignation on the day of publication and so became the tenth minister to resign from John Major's government. (Apparently Major commiserated with his plight and they later shared half a bottle of whisky together, although as will be seen, it was likely that Richards drank most of the whisky.)

Despite this setback Richards was determined to defend his seat at the General Election of 1997, although the 1995 Boundary Commission had revised his constituency boundaries and renamed it as Clwyd West. As the election neared he was faced with a new opponent in the form of one David Neal, who submitted a nomination form under the name of 'Rod Richard' with the intention of standing as the 'Conservatory' candidate. The real Rod Richards obtained an injunction preventing Mr Neal from standing under the assumed name of 'Rod Richard', but not, as it happens, as the Conservatory candidate. 3 Not that it made much difference, as Richards duly lost the seat by 1,848 votes to Gareth Thomas of the Labour Party in an election where not one Conservative was elected to Parliament for a Welsh constituency.

Life in the Welsh Assembly

With the election of a Labour government at Westminster in May 1997, devolution came back on the agenda. Richards was prominent in the campaign for a 'No' vote in the referendum on devolution held in September 1997. Somewhat ironically, it was the narrow 'Yes' vote, and the subsequent establishment of the Welsh Assembly that led to the revival of his political career. With the new Assembly now in prospect, Richards spent his time criticising the costs of establishing the institution and opposing the idea of any co-operation with other parties. This was in direct contrast to the line taken by Nicholas Bourne, who was William Hague's spokesman on Welsh Affairs, and favoured a more consensual approach and became a member of the National Assembly Advisory Group. It was likely this confrontational approach that won the hearts of many ordinary members of the Party, and led to him being elected as leader of the Conservative Party in Wales on the 10th November 1998, a decision that was said at the time to be a "blow" for William Hague, who had been backing Nicholas Bourne.

When the first elections for the new Welsh Assembly were held in May 1999, Richards stood as the Conservative candidate for Clwyd West, and although he lost out to Alun Pugh of the Labour Party by 760 votes, he nevertheless won a seat on the Assembly as lead candidate for the Conservative Party under the regional top-up provisions for the North Wales region. Whilst there were only nine Conservative members of the Welsh assembly, making it only the third biggest party in the Assembly after Labour and Plaid Cymru, Richards was nevertheless the party leader, and no doubt hoped that this advancement brought with it the prospect of returning to Westminster in due course.

Unfortunately for Rod, it all went wrong again very soon. On the 27th July 1999 he met Cassandra Melvin and her sister Tiffini at the Victoria public house at Richmond in London. As 'Hot Rod' Richards later admitted, he made an effort to "chat them up", after which they went for a meal at a nearby pizzeria before all the three retired to Tiffini's flat at Kew in west London. The story was that the sisters later asked Richards to leave the flat after he made some "sexually offensive remarks" and a confrontation took place during which it was alleged that Richards punched Cassandra in the face and threw her against a parked car causing her to break her arm. On the 5th August Richards was contacted by the Metropolitan Police who asked him to go to London. There he was arrested, charged, and bailed to appear before the magistrates. He subsequently appeared before Richmond Magistrates Court on the 8th September where he was charged with unlawfully causing grievous bodily harm to Cassandra Melvin.

Although he insisted that the incident was a "complete fabrication", Richards nevertheless made the decision to stand down as Party leader on the 6th August "in the best interests of the Conservative group in the Assembly and the party", in order to be able to focus on clearing his name. It was his original intention that this resignation would only be temporary as he nominated David Davies as his successor until he was ready to resume office. 4 However at a "crisis meeting" of Conservatives Assembly Members held in Cardiff on the 10th August, his colleagues rejected his choice on the grounds that Davies was "too inexperienced", and opted for the aforementioned Bourne instead. Richards claimed that he was being "undermined", and decided to make his resignation permanent. When Bourne subsequently announced his list of front-bench appointments in the Assembly, there was no place for Roderick and he therefore became the only Conservative 'back-bencher' in the Assembly.

Things got worse in the following month when, on the 15th September 1999, it was announced that he had failed to be renominated as the candidate for his old seat of Clwyd West. This rejection may well have coloured Richards's attitude towards the Party, as he failed to attend a number of group meetings, and defied the party whip when he abstained in a vote on the Assembly's draft budget. In February 2000 another meeting of the Conservatives Assembly Members confirmed that the whip was being withdrawn from him. Richards was considerably annoyed by this decision, and whilst he absolved David Davies of any involvement, he described the meeting at which the decision was taken as a kangaroo court conducted by the "malevolent seven", and referred to Bourne as "a complete prat".

Some relief arrived on the 23rd June 2000 when he was indeed acquitted of assaulting Ms Melvin, although it did become known as a result that he a previous conviction for violence for an offence committed when he was a student. This did not however entirely restore his reputation with the Party and in September 2000 it was confirmed that his name had been omitted from the list of Conservative General Election candidates, which effectively ended any hopes he might have had of finding another Parliamentary seat, whilst at the beginning of December 2001, it was further announced that the Welsh Party had also removed his name from the list of approved candidates for the next National Assembly elections in 2003.

It was following that most recent decision that he was admitted to hospital after being found a passer-by lying semi-conscious on a bench at a public park in Cardiff. He subsequently took time off on the advice of doctors, and in January 2002 gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday in which he admitted "I am an alcoholic", and that he had "screwed up" his "political life". He also admitted that he had previously arranged a stay in a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to wean himself away from alcohol, without any lasting success, but now recognised that he was "killing myself" and that "If I don't dry out, I will die". He also admitted that he had "screwed up" his "political life", that it was all his "own fault", and claimed that he had "always lived on the edge". In June 2002 he announced that he was taking indefinite sick leave from the Assembly, and then a few months later in September he announced that he was leaving immediately in the "interests of his health". He issued a statement in which he wished "Rhodri Morgan and his government well in their efforts to improve the quality of life in Wales", and similarly offered his felicitations to "Ieuan Wyn Jones and his opposition party" in their task of "scrutinising and challenging the government", but pointedly made no reference to Nicholas Bourne and the Conservative Party whatsoever.

Life after politics

This clearly spelt the end of Roderick's political career, and it soon became clear that other aspects of his life were also unravelling. In February 2003 he made an appearance at the High Court in London where he was declared bankrupt at the instigation of Whitbread due to his failure to repay the £300,000 he'd borrowed to refurbish a public house at Ystradgynlais. (Although with the benefit of hindsight it might be suggested that it was not the wisest decision for a brewery to lend £300,000 to an alcoholic to run a public house.) He again hit the headlines briefly on the 17th April 2008 after he was arrested and cautioned by the South Wales Police for common assault.

This incident took place when a Conservative Party worker turned up at his home in Fairwater, Cardiff and entered into a dispute about whether another party worker had spoken to him two days previously. During the course of the discussion Richards asked "Do you know who I am?", to which the canvasser replied "I don't give a fuck", and to which Roderick responded by telling him "I don't give a fuck either then". According to Richards he was pushed to the floor and only then did he get to his feet and punch the canvasser; although according to the canvasser Richards had assaulted him as he was walking past the house. Whatever the truth of the matter, it was the canvasser who reported the matter to the police, and Richards who found himself attending the local police station, although in the circumstances they decided not to pursue the matter.

Nevertheless, as befits a former employee of the BBC, Roderick has retained a number of contacts with the media, and can therefore be relied upon to produce the odd quotable quote when the need arises, whether it is on John Prescott's dalliance with his secretary or Prince Harry's unfortunate choice of words. It has been reported that he is intending to write a "no punches pulled" account of his life in politics which is awaited with interest.


NOTES

1 Being an entirely different John Smith from the one who was leader of the Labour Party

2 Barn is Welsh for opinion, and presumably "short, fat, slimy and fundamentally corrupt" is a translation from the original Welsh, which may or may not have been even more pithy and offensive to Labour councillors.

3 A case that was later cited in support of that became the Registration of Political Parties Act when that was put forwards in 1998

4 Being David Davies, now the Conservative member for Monmouth, and an entirely different David Davies from the one who represents Haltemprice and Howden


SOURCES

Biography compiled from the following online news sources;

  • Welsh Tories choose ex-minister, BBC News, November 10, 1998
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/211472.stm
  • CV: Rod Richards, BBC News, April 6, 1999
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/wales_99/the_welsh_assembly/308735.stm
  • Special Report: Welsh Tories await leadership decision, BBC News, August 16, 1999
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/422004.stm
  • Bourne snubs Richards in cabinet, BBC News, August 25, 1999
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/429349.stm
  • Geoffrey Gibbs, Tory's outburst after losing party whip, 9 February 2000
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2000/feb/09/thatcher.uk1
  • Rod Richards cleared of assault, BBC News, 23 June, 2000
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/799298.stm
  • Richards' future uncertain after reports, BBC News, 19 December, 2001
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1720240.stm
  • Rod Richards: 'Alcohol is killing me', BBC News, 7 January, 2002
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1746753.stm
  • Tom Bodden, Rod takes time off sick from Assembly, Jun 25 2002
    http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2002/06/25/rod-takes-time-off-sick-from-assembly-55578-11979645/
  • Rod Richards resigns, 10/9/2002
    http://www.newswales.co.uk/index.php?section=Politics&F=1&id=5945
  • Rod Richards declared bankrupt, BBC News, 10 February, 2003
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2745689.stm
  • Luke Salkeld, Former Tory minister arrested for doorstep attack on party's own canvasser, Daily Mail, 17th April 2008
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1015762/Former-Tory-minister-arrested-doorstep-attack-partys-canvasser.html

and also from the following reports accessible only from online news databanks;

  • Alice Thomson, Incautious words empty House - Dale Campbell-Savours, The Times - Friday, March 4, 1994
  • Jonathan Prynn, Minister's insults raise Welsh chorus of protest, The Times - Wednesday, December 21, 1994
  • Minister's bondage romp with divorcee - News of the World - Sunday, June 2, 1996
  • Mark Thomas and Keith Beabey, What mistress said about her minister - News of the World - Sunday, June 2, 1996
  • Gary Jones, Tories' roll of dishonour - News of the World - Sunday, June 2, 1996

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