DCSIMG

William Hague: From Yorkshire prodigy to perennial statesman

Waiting for Video...
 

From bright-eyed Conservative prodigy to veteran of the Tory ranks - via a series of high-profile PR gaffes - William Hague’s career in politics began winding down last night with the announcement he is quitting as Foreign Secretary and will leave the Commons at the next election.

Mr Hague came back from leading the Conservatives to crushing defeat in the 2001 election to become one of the most effective members of David Cameron’s team.

He was catapulted to national attention as a 16-year-old when he unleashed his now familiar Yorkshire oratory on the 1977 party conference - to the delight of Margaret Thatcher and the media.

Educated at Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive and Magdalen College, Oxford, he was elected president of the Oxford Union - a traditional springboard into national politics.

With an MBA from the noted Insead business school in France, he held jobs at Shell and management consultants McKinsey but was always destined to make his career in Westminster.

He cut his election teeth with defeat at the 1987 general election in the Labour stronghold of Wentworth, near Rotherham - where he was born on March 26 1961 - but within two years was in Parliament, winning a by-election in Richmond, North Yorkshire.

Under John Major he quickly climbed the ministerial ranks, entering the Cabinet as Welsh secretary in 1995 - a posting where he met civil servant Ffion Jenkins, whom he married in 1997.

By the time of his wedding he had taken on the unenviable task of fighting Tony Blair, who had been swept to power on an overwhelming wave of public support after 18 years of Tory rule.

Verbal victories over Mr Blair in the Commons were not enough as a succession of public relations blunders - including a much derided baseball cap emblazoned with his surname - splits over Europe and leadership speculation fatally undermined his four-year tenure.

A widely-criticised 2001 campaign ended with the Tories gaining just one seat and Mr Hague standing down, setting an unwanted precedent as the first Conservative leader not to become prime minister.

But the rehabilitation was almost as swift as the demise, with demand as an after-dinner speaker and directorships soon helping him become the best-paid MP on around £1 million a year, earnings swelled by award-winning biographies of fellow prodigy Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce.

He was eventually persuaded to return as shadow foreign secretary and ‘’senior member of the shadow cabinet’’ in 2005, a role Mr Cameron confirmed made him deputy leader ‘’in all but name’’.

The role saw him thrust back into the toxic issue of Europe - heading fraught efforts to find new allies after Mr Cameron pledged to withdraw his MEPs from the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

He emerged relatively unscathed from the Westminster expenses scandal, forced only to repay £600 in mortgage interest claims.

But as the election campaign was firing into life, he found himself at the centre of controversy when a deal he struck as leader a decade ago came back to shake the Tories.

Mr Hague fought hard to secure a life peerage for Michael Ashcroft, the billionaire donor who had saved the party from financial ruin in its wilderness years after 1997.

Despite being rebuffed by the House of Lords vetting panel because of the tycoon’s position as a tax exile in Belize, Mr Hague resubmitted his nomination in 2000, backed by a written assurance from Lord Ashcroft on the basis of which he told Mr Blair the Treasury would receive ‘’tens of millions of pounds’’ a year in tax.

The revelation a decade later that Lord Ashcroft had quietly altered his undertaking to allow him to take on ‘’non-dom’’ tax status was disastrously timed for the Tories, who were trying to focus voters’ attention on Labour’s reliance on union funding.

And it made Mr Hague into a lightning rod for questions about Lord Ashcroft’s bankrolling of campaigns in target seats and the influence of a handful of mega-rich backers on the Tories.

When the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition assumed office, Mr Hague was confirmed in the plum heavyweight job of Foreign Secretary.

But less than four months later he issued an extraordinary personal statement to counter internet rumours about his relationship with his special adviser Christopher Myers, who quit his post.

Mr Hague denied having had an ‘’improper’’ relationship with Mr Myers, although he said they had ‘’occasionally shared twin hotel rooms’’, and insisted his marriage was secure.

He also revealed that his wife had suffered a number of miscarriages as they tried to start a family.

Internationally, his work saw him meet international colleagues as he discussed world conflicts.

And he spoke of his desire to show the country “learned from this mistakes” of Mr Blair’s 2003 invasion of Iraq on the basis that it had weapons of mass destruction.

Last year, among concerns over the use of chemical weaponry by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mr Hague described the regime as ‘’an evil we must stand up to one way or another’’ - but insisted the Government was not ‘’gung-ho’’ about military action.

Downing Street announced last night that Mr Hague is standing down as Foreign Secretary and will replace Andrew Lansley as Leader of the Commons before quitting as MP for Richmond next year.

Praising him as “one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation”, Mr Cameron confirmed Mr Hague would remain “First Secretary of State and my de facto political deputy in the run up to the election” and would be “a core part” of the team fighting for an absolute Conservative majority in 2015.

 

Comments

 
 

Back to the top of the page

 

X scottish independence image

Keep up-to-date with all the latest Referendum news