British Conservative Politician
William Hague is the former Leader of the Conservative Party (1997-2001), now Shadow Foreign Secretary and the Member of Parliament for Richmond since 1989.
William Jefferson Hague was born at Wentworth village in Rotherham on the 26th March 1961, where his father Timothy Nigel Hague ran the family firm Hague's Soft Drinks. He was educated at Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive School in Rotherham and Magdalen College, Oxford where he was President of the Union and of the Oxford University Conservative Association. After graduating with a first in politics, economics and philosophy he attented the INSEAD Business School to study for an MBA. He briefly worked for Shell Oil as a management trainee but left after only a year to work for the management consultants McKinsey and Co, although he also moonlighted as a political adviser to the Treasury during the 1980s.
From an early age William had nurtured political ambitions, being the original 'Tory Boy' who appeared as a sixteen year-old at the party conference in 1977 and made a speech denouncing the Labour government. After unsuccessfully contesting his home constituency of Wentworth in 1987, he was selected as the Conservative PPC for the safe seat of Richmond in north Yorkshire, taking over from Leon Brittain who had resigned the seat to take up the post of European Commissioner and so found himself elected to Parliament in a by-election held on the 23rd February 1989.
Within a year or so he found himself serving Norman Lamont, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and in 1993 got his first real government job when he became Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security. In the following year was promoted to the post of Minister of Social Security where he remained until 1995 when John Major promoted him to the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Wales. Of course William Hague wasn't Welsh and indeed had no connections with Wales as such, but then neither did anyone else on the Conservative front bench at the time. But as a result of his regular trips to Cardiff, Hague ended up making the acquaintance of one Ffion Jenkins, who has since become Mrs Hague.
The Party Leader
Following the Conservative's disastrous showing in the 1997 General Election, the defeated John Major resigned as party leader and William entered the race to succeed him. Hague was clearly identified as being on the centre right of the party, and thus although he trailed Kenneth Clarke in the first two ballots, he was able to see off his more right-wing rivals and easily defeated Clarke in the final run off by 92 votes to 70 on the 19th June 1997, becoming the youngest ever leader of the Party as well as the first to have attended a comprehensive school.
Once elected Hague launched his 'Fresh Start' policy with the intention of re-invigorating and renewing the Conservative Party, whilst he adopted a distinctly sceptical policy on Europe. He announced his opposition to the Amsterdam Treaty and advocated renegotiating the Treaty of Rome, he promoted such Eurosceptics as Iain Duncan Smith and David Heathcote-Amory whilst noted pro-Europeans such as David Curry and Ian Taylor resigned from the front bench. However, although he overwhelmingly won a ballot of Conservative party members in support of this policy, he was unable to contrive a genuine party unity, and the running dispute between the pro and anti European factions, continued to bedevil his position in the party.
This was not however the only problem that he faced, thanks to the activities of those christened the 'Portallistas' by the British media. The thing was that when John Major resigned as party leader, the favourite to succeed him would have been Michael Portillo, except for the little fact that Portillo had been one of the casualties of the 1997 electoral disaster and had lost his seat in the Commons. But following the death of Alan Clark, Portillo was selected as his replacement in Kensington and Chelsea and returned to the House when he won the by-election in late November 1999. At the time there were many in the party, not least Portillo himself, who felt that, notwithstanding the party's decision in 1997, their man should be propelled to the top job as soon as possible. The 'Portallistas', as they were called, were widely believed to be actively seeking to undermine Hague's leadership. Hague may have hoped to have co-opted their support when he appointed Portillo to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chancellor on the 1st February 2000. But Portillo promptly made a pronouncement in the House of Commons that a future Conservative government would respect the independence of the Bank of England and would not repeal the national minimum wage, and was thus seen to be following his own independent policy line, and further undermining Hague's authority.
Hague had always been regarded as an accomplished performer in the House of Commons, and during his time as leader he "skewered a popular Labour government again and again", making a number of witty and often devastating assaults on the Prime Minister. But whilst this won him the admiration of the writers of commons sketches this made little impression on the rest of the population which takes little notice of events on the floor of the House of Commons. Indeed William's public perception appeared to be quite different; as respected as he was in the House of Commons, many of the public refused to take him that seriously. One of his major problems was escaping from what Max Clifford called the image of the "the sweet, precocious, 16-year-old cherub who stood up at the Conservative Party conference". His appearances at the Notting Hill Carnival and Alton Towers complete with a baseball cap fixed on his head served only to convince many that he was simply trying too hard. (Not to mention his claim in GQ Magazine that he used to drink up to fourteen pints of beer a day during his holiday job making deliveries for his father's business.)
Hague did achieve some electoral success, both in Local and European elections where the Conservative Party made some significant gains. However as far as the 2001 General Election was concerned he decided to campaign on the patrotic platform of "Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country", and made his famous speech at Loughborough in May 2001, when he spoke of there being "Twelve days to save the pound. Twelve days to secure our independence. Twelve days to decide whether our children and grandchildren will inherit the same freedoms that we inherited in our turn." (All of which is said to have dismayed the left of the party who saw it all as being a trifle xenophobic.) In any event the Conservatives won only 166 seats at the 2001 General Election, just one more than it had managed in 1997. Hague promptly resigned lamenting that "we have not been able to persuade a majority, or anything approaching a majority, that we are yet the alternative government that they need." That night he said to have drunk a bottle of champagne and woken up to find that a thoughtful neighbour had left him a teach-yourself book on the piano so that he could fill his time.
After the Leadership
After resigning the leadership Hague took up his thoughtful neighbour's suggestion and did indeed learn to play the piano, although he also spent his time "making £630,000 a year advising companies and giving speeches", earning up to £10,000 a time on the after-dinner circuit as well as writing a column for the News of the World. His newly established status as the highest earning Member of Parliament, was further enhanced by the publication of a number of biographies, the first of which was William Pitt the Younger in 2004, (which was chosen as the History Book of the Year, in the British Book Awards for 2005) followed by William Wilberforce in 2007, with William Pitt the Elder apparently next on the list to be tackled.
With the election of David Cameron as Party leader in December 2005 he returned to front bench politics as Shadow Foreign Secretary, a decision that was said to have cost him some £500,000 a year in lost earnings from the above mentioned after-dinner speeches and journalism. However despite this apparent act of self-sacrifice, William continued to act as the parliamentaty adviser for JCB, Terra Capital Partners, and Dunalastair Ireland, and remained in demand as an after dinner speaker on the awards circuit, and so continued to bring home a six-figure sum on top of his parliamentary salary. William has however emerged as a keen advocate of the Cameron agenda to project the image of a younger and more modern Conservative party, and has often deputised in the Commons for David Cameron, when the latter has been absent (such as the occasion when Cameron was off on paternity leave early in 2006). Indeed it is worth remembering, that as far as the Conservative frontbench is now concerned, William is one of the very few that has any prior experience of government, and therefore takes on something of the role of the elder statesman. Whilst the public perception of William as "naive and nerdy" might still persist, within the House of Commons he is regarded as an accomplished and professional politician; David Blunkett once expressed the opinion that Hague was "pushed into the job too early", and noted that this was a "great relief to all of us on my side of the political fence!"
- "Hague, William" A Dictionary of Political Biography. Ed. Dennis Kavanagh. Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online.
- HAGUE, Rt Hon. William (Jefferson)’, Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
- Rt Hon William Hague MP
- Hague: I drank 14 pints a day, BBC News, 8 August, 2000
- Hague plays 'patriot' card, BBC News, 4 March, 2001, 16:28 GMT
- Hague: Twelve Days to Keep the Pound Saturday May 26, 2001
- Profile: William Hague, BBC News, 8 June, 2001
- Roy Stone, Don't be Vague, Count on Hague,
- Anthony Browne and Sam Coates, Hague pays dearly for his promotion to the Shadow Cabinet, November 10, 2006