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William Hague

William Jefferson Hague FRSL MP (born 26 March 1961) is a British Conservative politician who has been the First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons since 2014. He previously served as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2010 until 2014,[1] Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1997 to 2001, and he has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Richmond (Yorks) since 1989. Hague was educated at Wath-upon-Dearne Grammar School, the University of Oxford and INSEAD, eventually being elected to the House of Commons in a by-election in 1989. Hague quickly rose through the ranks of the Major Government and was appointed to the Cabinet in 1995 as Secretary of State for Wales

Following a landslide defeat in the 1997 general election to the Labour Party, he was elected leader of the Conservative Party at the age of 36. He resigned as Conservative Leader after the 2001 general election following a second landslide defeat, at which the Conservatives could only make a net gain of one seat, thus becoming the first Conservative Leader since the role came into being in the early 1920s not to become Prime Minister.[2] He returned to the backbenches, beginning a career as an author, writing biographies of William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce. He also held several directorships, and worked as a consultant and public speaker. After David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in 2005, Hague rejoined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Foreign Secretary. He also took on the role of "Senior Member of the Shadow Cabinet", effectively serving as Cameron's deputy. After the formation of the Coalition Government in 2010, Hague was appointed First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary. Cameron has described him as his "de facto political deputy".[3]

On 14 July 2014, Hague stood down as Foreign Secretary to become Leader of the House of Commons in preparation for his planned retirement from parliament, after 26 years as an MP, at the next United Kingdom general election expected in 2015.[4]

Early life

Hague was born in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He initially boarded at Ripon Grammar School and then attended Wath-upon-Dearne Comprehensive, a state secondary school near Rotherham, then known as Wath Grammar School. Hague's father, Nigel, and mother ran a soft drinks manufacturing business for which he used to work during school holidays.[5]He first made the national news at the age of 16 by speaking at the Conservative Party's 1977 national conference. In his speech he told the attenders, "Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time", but that others would have to live with consequences of a Labour government if it stayed in power.[6]

Hague studied PPE at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with First-Class Honours. He was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), but was also "convicted of electoral malpractice" in the process.[7] OUCA's official historian David Blair notes that Hague was actually elected on a platform pledging to clean up OUCA, but that this was "tarnished by accusations that he misused his position as Returning Officer to help the Magdalen candidate for the Presidency, Peter Havey. Hague was playing the classic game of using his powers as President to keep his faction in power, and Havey was duly elected... There were accusations of blatant ballot box stuffing".[8]He was then President of the Oxford Union, a noted route to political office. Following university, Hague went on to study for a Master of Business Administration degree at INSEAD. He then worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, where Archie Norman was his mentor.[9]

Member of Parliament

He was first an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Wentworth in 1987, but was then elected to Parliament in a by-election in 1989 as member for Richmond, North Yorkshire, succeeding former Home Secretary Leon Brittan. Following his election he was the youngest Conservative MP. He is the subject of a portrait in oil commissioned by parliament.[10]


Despite having only recently entered Parliament, Hague became part of the government in 1990, serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.[11] After Lamont was sacked in 1993, Hague moved to the Department of Social Security (DSS) where he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The following year he was promoted to Minister of State at the DSS with responsibility for Social Security and Disabled People.[11] His fast rise up through the government is attributed to his intelligence and skills in debate.[12]He entered the Cabinet in 1995 as Secretary of State for Wales.[11] Hague made a good impression at the Welsh Office; his predecessor John Redwood had been heavily criticised in the role. Resolving not to repeat Redwood's attempt to mime the Welsh national anthem at a public event, Hague asked a Welsh Office civil servant, Ffion Jenkins, to teach him the words; they later married.[13] He continued serving in the Cabinet until the Conservatives were removed from power in the 1997 general election.

Leadership of the Conservative Party

Following the 1997 general election defeat, Hague was elected as the leader of the Conservative Party in succession to John Major, defeating more experienced figures such as Kenneth Clarke and Michael Howard. At the age of 36, Hague was tasked with rebuilding the Conservative Party (fresh from their worst general election result of the 20th century)[14] by attempting to build a more modern image. £250,000 was spent on the "Listening to Britain" campaign to try to put the Conservatives back in touch with the public after losing power; he was also influenced by the "compassionate conservatism" ideology of George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas.[15]

On one of these occasions he visited a theme park and he, his Chief of Staff Sebastian Coe, and the local MP took a ride on a log flume wearing baseball caps emblazoned with the word 'HAGUE'.[16] Cecil Parkinson described the exercise as "juvenile". During the 1998 Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth, the tabloid The Sun's front page read (referencing Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch), "This party is no more ... it has ceased to be ... this is an ex-party. Cause of death: suicide."Despite this, Hague steered the Tories to excellent results in the European parliament election in June 1999, where they gained 36 MEPs next to Labour's 29.[17] Hague hailed this success as a vindication of his opposition to the single European currency.[18]
Hague's authority was put in doubt with the promotion of Michael Portillo to the role of Shadow Chancellor in 2000. Indeed, Portillo had been widely tipped to be the party's next leader before dramatically losing his seat in parliament in the 1997 general election, only to regain his place there in a by-election win two years later.[19]

Within days Portillo reversed 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, led by Amanda Platell, fought an increasingly bitter battle with those of Portillo. Platell has said that she advised Hague to abandon the "fresh start" theme and to follow his instincts.[citation needed] This led to a number of further mistakes, such as the claim that he used to drink "14 pints of beer a day" when he was a teenager.[20]Hague's reputation suffered further damage towards the end of his leadership, with a 2001 poll for the Daily Telegraph finding that 66% of voters considered him to be "a bit of a wally" and 70% of voters believed he would "say almost anything to win votes".[21]

"Foreign Land" speech

At a party conference speech in March 2001, Hague said:
We have a Government that has contempt for the views of the people it governs.
There is nothing that the British people can talk about that this Labour Government doesn't deride.
Talk about Europe and they call you extreme. Talk about tax and they call you greedy. Talk about crime and they call you reactionary. Talk about immigration and they call you racist; talk about your nation and they call you Little Englanders ... This government thinks Britain would be all right if we had a different people. I think Britain would be all right, if only we had a different Government.
A Conservative Government that speaks with the voice of the British people.
A Conservative Government never embarrassed or ashamed of the British people.
A Conservative Government that trusts the people [...] This country must always offer sanctuary to those fleeing from injustice. Conservative Governments always have, and always will. But it's precisely those genuine refugees who are finding themselves elbowed aside.[22]
Former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine, a prominent One Nation Conservative, was critical of Hague's allegation that Britain was becoming a "foreign land", and confessed in newspaper interviews that he was uncertain as to whether he could support a Hague-led Conservative Party.[23]

Skill in debate

Hague's critics were checked each Wednesday by his performance at Prime minister's questions.[24][25] During one particular exchange, while responding to the Queen's Speech of 2000, Hague attacked 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.[26]
Blair responded by criticising what he saw as Hague's "bandwagon" politics:
... 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 honourable 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 honourable Gentleman really aspires to stand at this Despatch 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.[27]


On the morning of Labour's second consecutive landslide victory in the 2001 general election, Hague stated: "we have not been able to persuade a majority, or anything approaching a majority, that we are yet the alternative government that they need."[28] In the 2001 election the Conservative Party had gained only one seat from their disastrous 1997 election. Following the defeat, Hague resigned as leader.

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