William Hague

William Hague

William Jefferson Hague (born 26 March 1961) is a British politician. He is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks) and Shadow Foreign Secretary. He previously served as leader of the Conservative Party between 1997 and 2001.

First elected to the House of Commons in a by-election in 1989, Hague rose through the ranks of John Major's government and entered the Cabinet in 1995 as the Secretary of State for Wales. Following the Conservatives' defeat in the 1997 general election, he was elected as leader of the Conservative Party. He resigned as party leader after the 2001 general election following a landslide defeat to the Labour Party. He was the first leader of the Conservatives not to have become Prime Minister since Austen Chamberlain in the early 1920s.

On the backbenches Hague began a career as an author, writing biographies on William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce. He also held several directorships, and worked as a consultant and public speaker; the combined annual income of these activities was estimated to be around £1 million, one of the highest in Parliament.

After David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 2005, Hague returned to front line politics as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Early life

Hague was born in Rotherham in Yorkshire, and was educated at Wath-upon-Dearne Comprehensive in Rotherham.

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 attendees, "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.

Subsequently, Hague went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was President of both the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and the Oxford Union, a noted route to political office[citation needed]. Hague studied PPE at Oxford, graduating with first-class honours. Following university, Hague went on to study for a Master of Business Administration degree at the business school INSEAD. Hague then worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, where Archie Norman was his mentor.

Member of Parliament

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

In government

Despite only having recently entered Parliament, Hague became part of the government in 1990, serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary for the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont. After Lamont was sacked in 1993, Hague moved to the Department of Social Security 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. His fast rise up through the government is attributed to his intelligence and skills in debate.

He entered the Cabinet in 1995 as Secretary of State for Wales. 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 would later marry. 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 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 by attempting to build a more modern image. £250,000 was spent on the 'Listening to Britain' campaign to try and put the Conservatives back in the touch with the public after losing power; he was also influenced by the "compassionate conservatism" ideology of the then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush.

Hague's leadership came under constant attack and his tenure was widely considered a failure. Some commentators viewed him as ill-prepared, or 'unelectable', as Opposition Leader . Hague himself feels his image never did recover after the first few months, when various public-relations exercises backfired disastrously. 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'. Cecil Parkinson described the exercise as "juvenile".

During the 1998 Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth, the tabloid Sun's front page infamously 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."

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 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. 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.

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".

"Foreign Land" speech

After a controversial party conference speech in 2001, Hague was accused of xenophobia and racism by sections of the media. In the speech, Hague said: "Talk about asylum and they call you racist; talk about your nation and they call you Little Englanders [...] This government thinks Britain would be alright if we had a different people [...] Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country!".

The speech was criticised in even traditionally Conservative newspapers such as The Sun and The Times. Former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine, a prominent One Nation Conservative, was particularly 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. With hindsight, the speech served to cement the Conservatives' reputation as "the nasty party" in the run-up to the general election.

Skill in debate

Although polls remained unfavourable, Hague gained great respect from all sides of the British House of Commons during his time as Leader of the Opposition for his performance 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 and that he regularly bested Tony Blair during these sessions. In one particular exchange Hague attacked the Prime Minister's record, in response to the Queen's Speech of 2000:

"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 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.


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." In the 2001 election the Conservative Party had gained only one seat from their disastrous 1997 election. Following the defeat, Hague resigned as leader, thus becoming the first full Conservative Party leader not to have become Prime Minister.


On the backbenches he occasionally spoke in the Commons on the issues of the day. While Hague spoke in support of the military action proposed by Prime Minister Tony Blair during debate before the 2003 Iraq War, one could lipread Blair saying to his colleague, then-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, at the time the Prime Minister of Australia.

Hague's profile and popularity have risen among both Conservative Party members and the wider public significantly since his spell as party leader. Since ceasing to be Leader of the Opposition, Hague has been an active media personality. He put in three much-praised appearances as a guest host on the BBC satirical news show Have I Got News For You in which he was also persuaded by Ian Hislop to admit that endorsing the soon-to-be-jailed Jeffrey Archer as the Conservative candidate for the post of Mayor of London was his "biggest mistake".

Other subsequent activities have included writing an in-depth biography of 18th century Prime Minister Pitt the Younger (published in 2004), teaching himself how to play the piano, and hosting the 25th anniversary programme for Radio 4 on the political television satire Yes Minister in 2005. In June 2007 he also published his second book, a biography of the anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce, shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing.

Hague's annual income is the highest in Parliament, with earnings of about £400,000 a year from directorships, consultancy, speeches, and his parliamentary salary. His income was previously estimated at £1 million annually, but he dropped several commitments and in effect took a salary cut of some £600,000 on becoming Shadow Foreign Secretary in 2005. The full list of his registered interests can be found here

Along with former Prime Minister John Major, former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, and Hague's successor Iain Duncan Smith, Hague served for a time on the Conservative Leadership Council, which was itself set up by Michael Howard upon his unopposed election as Conservative Party Leader in 2003.

In the 2005 Conservative leadership election Hague backed eventual winner David Cameron.

Hague is the chairman of the Team 2 Thousand donor club, a society for donors to the Conservative party.

Return to the Shadow Cabinet

Following the 2005 General Election, the then-Conservative Party leader Michael Howard offered Hague the post of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he turned the post down. Hague apparently told Howard that his business commitments would make it difficult for him to take on such a high profile job.

On 6 December 2005, David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative party. Hague was offered and accepted the role of Shadow Foreign Secretary and Senior Member of the Shadow Cabinet, effectively serving as Cameron's deputy (though not formally, unlike previous deputy Conservative leaders Willie Whitelaw, Peter Lilley and Michael Ancram). He had been widely tipped to return to the front bench under either Cameron or leadership contest runner-up David Davis.

On 30 January 2006, per David Cameron's instructions, Hague travelled to Brussels for talks to pull Conservative Party MEPs out of the federalist European People's Party–European Democrats (EPP-ED) group in the European Parliament. (Daily Telegraph, 30 Jan 2006). Further, on 15 February 2006, Hague stood in during David Cameron's paternity leave at Prime Minister's Questions. This appearance gave rise to jokes at the expense of Blair, that all three parties that day were being led by 'stand ins', with the Liberal Democrats represented by acting leader Sir Menzies Campbell, the Labour Party by the departing Blair, and the Conservatives by Hague. Hague again deputised for Cameron for several sessions in 2006. His standing in for Cameron at PMQs has increased the resemblance of his role to that of a deputy leader, but he retains only the title Senior Member of the Shadow Cabinet. Despite still being relatively young for an MP, Hague has been described as the Conservative Party's "elder statesman".


  • Mr William Hague (1961–1989)
  • Mr William Hague MP (1989–1995)
  • The Rt. Hon. William Hague MP (1995–)

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