I’ve always had a bit more time for William Hague than some of the other Tory leaders TB saw off during his leadership of the Labour Party. John Major could never forgive Tony for beating him and likes to think it was all done by spin rather than a leader of real drive and substance; Michael Howard could never resist opportunism or hide what Anne Widdecombe saw as his dark side; IDS seemed a nice enough guy but was never going to be an effective leader of his party; David Cameron had a lot going for him but ultimately failed to win outright in the most benign political circumstances imaginable.
I remember when TB stepped down as PM, and a lot of Tory voices went up to give their verdict, and many tried to belittle or diminish in a very tribal way. Hague just put that big smile on his face and said words to the effect that none of them had ever been able to land a glove on him.
In volume 3 of my diaries (out next summer, volume 2 ((97-99)) out in January … may as well get plugging when everyone is talking Blair and books) I give a good example of Hague’s great delivery and sense of humour. Dome night, Millennium Eve (colourfully described by TB for his fears that a trapeze artist would land on the Queen, and his rage at Charlie Falconer for the fact that the country’s editors and journalists were stranded at Stratford tube station.) As I am getting an ever increasing volume of frantic calls from and about the stranded media, and picking up on TB’s nervousness a few rows in front of me next to Her Maj and Philip, I turn to find William and Ffion Hague are right behind me, and again, the big smile is all over his face and the Northern vowels are turned up to full throttle… ‘it’s all going very well then …’
There is an interesting section in TB’s book when he goes through the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. PMQs, a weekly event whose dificulties he also describes in colourful terms, was an important place for working them out. With Hague, who took over from Major in pretty difficult circumstances, we reached a general line of attack basically summed up as ‘good jokes, bad judgement.’ This had the side effect of making Hague less confident about using the good jokes, which created further space to highlight often bad judgement.
The judgement referred to relates to the big political calls that he was having to make. But the theme has surfaced again in the light of yesterday’s resignation of his special adviser. Bad judgement, people say, to share a room with an adviser. Bad judgement, they say, to make a detailed statement that takes a rumour circulating on the margins of the internet to the pages and screens of the mainstream media, meaning this story instantly becomes part of the Hague permanent profile.
But, assuming his statement to be true, which I do, not least because he has made it in such unequivocal terms, I am left thinking not just that it might, yes, seem a bit odd to share a room with a young male adviser, but really, why does he have to go into all this in such detail at all? A rumour on the internet, born largely it seems of an unfortunate photo – most politicians are poor at casual clothes – and suddenly he is divulging really private details of his wife’s miscarriages, and having people question his judgement not on policy, which really matters, but on what is essentially media handling of a tricky situation.
Anyway, as many of you know, I am usually willing to give the Tories a good kicking, and often they deserve it. But I wish William and Ffion well.