William Hague

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William Hague
William Hague

The Right Honourable William Jefferson Hague (born March 26, 1961) is a British politician and former leader of the Conservative Party. Hague was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, a strongly working-class area, and caused a sensation at the age of sixteen by speaking at the Conservative party's national conference.

Subsequently, Hague went to Magdalen College, Oxford, and while there he was President of both the Conservative Association (OUCA) and the Oxford Union, a noted breeding-ground for political hopefuls and high-flyers. Fulfilling his early promise, he was elected to Parliament as member for Richmond, North Yorkshire in 1989, and entered the Cabinet in 1995 as Secretary of State for Wales.

Hague made a good showing at the Welsh Office, partly because his predecessor, John Redwood, had been such a disaster in the role. Resolving not to emulate Redwood's farcical attempt to mime to the Welsh national anthem at a public event, Hague recruited a female civil servant, Ffion Jenkins, to teach him the words. He later married her.

Leadership of Conservative Party

In 1997, Hague was elected leader of the Conservative Party in succession to John Major, in the hope that a fresh young face would counteract the public appeal of Tony Blair. Hague beat many more senior Conservatives for the role, including Michael Howard whom he had agreed to run with.

Hague's leadership is seen widely as a failure, in the view of some commentators Hague was ill-prepared for the role of Opposition Leader and had a poor public delivery while his attempts to appeal to the younger generation failed to win him the popular following he had been seeking. Hague has said that his image never recovered from the first few months of his leadership during which public relations exercises backfired disastrously. The prime example of this was his visit to a fun park during which he, his Chief of Staff Sebastian Coe and the local MP took a ride on a water ride. Cecil Parkinson described the exercise as "juvenile". He also became known as the 'Fighting Foetus', having been likened to a foetus by Tony Banks, the Minister for Sport, owing to his unfortunate likeness to an unborn baby, and later extended by The Guardian's Parliamentary sketchwriter, Simon Hoggart to 'Fighting Foetus' due to his bantam-like aggressive demeanour at a political rally.

Hague's leadership, like that of his successor, was constantly under attack, even from traditionally friendly sources. During the 1998 Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth The Sun's front page read, in a parody of the famous Monty Python sketch, "This party is no more ... it has ceased to be ... this is an ex-party. Cause of death: suicide,"

Although perception of him in the country was often said to be unfavourable, Hague gained respect from all sides of the British House of Commons during his time as Leader of the Opposition for his brilliant performances as a debater. It has been said that Hague's critics, however vocal their opposition, were silenced every Wednesday by his performance at Prime Minister's Questions. In one particularly bitter exchange in response to the Queen's Speech of 2000 Hague ripped into the Prime Minister's record;

"In more than 20 years in politics, he has betrayed every cause he believed in, contradicted every statement he has made, broken every promise he has given and breached every agreement that he has entered into... There is a lifetime of U-turns, errors and sell-outs. All those hon. Members who sit behind the Prime Minister and wonder whether they stand for anything any longer, or whether they defend any point of principle, know who has led them to that sorry state. "

Blair's response is one occasion where he is credited with silencing Hague, criticising what he saw as his bandwagon policy making.

..he started the fuel protest bandwagon, then the floods bandwagon; on defence it became armour-plated, then on air traffic control it became airborne...Yes, the right hon. Gentleman made a very witty, funny speech, but it summed up his leadership: good jokes, lousy judgment. I am afraid that in the end, if the right hon. Gentleman really aspires to stand at this Dispatch Box, he will have to get his policies sorted out and his party sorted out, and offer a vision for the country's future, not a vision that would take us backwards.

Hague's authority was put in doubt with the promotion of Michael Portillo to the role of shadow Chancellor in 2000. Within days Portillo reversed years of Conservative opposition to two of Labour's flagship policies, the minimum wage and independence of the Bank of England. From then and until the 2001 General Election Hague's supporters, primarily Amanda Platell, fought an increasingly bitter battle with Portillo's. Platell has said that she advised Hague to abandon the "fresh start" theme and to follow his instincts. While this was not wholly unsuccessful in improving his image some bad mistakes were made including the claim that he used to drink '14 pints of beer a day' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/871543.stm) when he was a teenager and his much maligned, even described as racist, "foreign-land" speech (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1201755.stm).

As Hague admitted on the morning of Labour's second landslide victory "we have not been able to persuade a majority or anything approaching a majority, that we are yet the alternative government that they need." The Conservatives won only one more seat in the 2001 General Election than they had in the 1997 election. Following this defeat, Hague resigned as leader, thus becoming the first full Conservative leader not to have become Prime Minister. (Sir Austen Chamberlain, who is often cited as failing to achieve this, was only Leader of Conservative MPs, not the full party.)

Backbenches

Whilst now on the backbenches, he occasionally still speaks in the House on the issues of the day. During a debate before the Iraq War (2003) Hague's speech in support of action (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/vo030318/debtext/30318-14.htm#30318-14_time0) proposed by Tony Blair was a typical example. During the television coverage of him speaking one could lipread the Prime Minister - whom Hague, a Conservative, normally opposes - saying with a grin to his colleague and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "He's good, you know."

Between 1997 and 2002 William Hague was the chairman of the International Democrat Union. Since 2002 he has served as a deputy chairman to John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia.

William Hague is no longer in the political spot light, and it seems unlikely that he will return to front-line politics in the near future. A much-praised performance as "guest host" on the satirical television programme Have I Got News For You may indicate a possible future direction to his career. Other subsequent activities have included his in-depth biography of 18th century Prime Minister Pitt the Younger, published in 2004, and 25th anniversary programme for Radio 4 about the political television satire Yes, Minister in 2005.

External links



Preceded by:
David Hunt
Secretary of State for Wales
1995–1997
Succeeded by:
Ron Davies
Preceded by:
John Major
Leader of the British Conservative Party
1997–2001
Succeeded by:
Iain Duncan Smith

Template:End boxsv:William Hague

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