Don't be Vague,
William Jefferson Hague, hardly out of short trousers, end
up asour Leader of the Opposition and potential Prime Minister?
Roy Stone goes back to his roots.
hope you've all got a lump in your throats.
Thirty years after Harold Wilson, eighty five years after
Herbert Asquith and two hundred and twenty after the Marquis
of Rockingham, Britain is close to having another Yorkshireman
at the helm. Repeat after me. The Right Honourable William
Hague, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Stop giggling at the back, I'm serious! All it takes is
a cross on that ballot paper and the lad from Wentworth,
near Rotherham will be leading the entire country. Brings
a tear to the eye, doesn't it.
mentioned the Marquis of Rockingham because the man was
not only the first Yorkshireman to run the country, but
he also happens to loom large in the childhood of both William
Hague and myself. Both of us grew up within a stroll of
the Rockingham's immense estate north of Rotherham, his
Wentworth Woodhouse stately pile, his palladian follies,
his model village, and what was left of all his aristocratic
enterprise. The old Marquis and his son had a passion for
industry. Around his estate he cut canals, sank coal mines,
set up foundries and railway lines. Sponsored the installation
of the Newcomen Steam Engine. Until very recently the industry
was still there and still worked. The old Tory's vision
more or less intact.
was born in Wentworth village, to a family who ran a
thriving business over the eastern side of the vast estate.
He grew up alongside coal miners and steelworkers and labourers,
but the family firm was unconnected with the old Earl's
affairs. Hague's Soft Drinks was a local institution and
young William grew up knowing industry secrets that any
child would have treasured. Lime and Lemon, Cherry. Orange.
Dandelion and Burdock. Much more magical than Anthracite,
Bitumen, Coke and Ironstone.
Village was an oasis in the dust and tundra of the vast
South Yorkshire coalfields. It was a legacy of benign capitalism
where a Tory patriarch would provide cheap housing, schools
and healthcare for his workforce. The big house was now
a PE college but the whole village was still exclusive,
still owned by the Fitzwilliam Estate. To those of us just
the other side of the moonscape of waste matter north of
the place, where pit buzzers cut through filthy air, and
coal trains thundered past at all hours, Wentworth was a
"...They do not want to go to Callaghan's promised
land, which must surely rank as the most miserable
and abhorrent land that has ever been promised to
the people of a nation.
Most of all they want to be free
from the Government, the government they think should
get out of the way, not interfere with their lives,
and I trust that Mrs Thatcher's government will indeed
get out of the way..."
WILLIAM HAGUE aged 15
Conservative Party Conference 1976
only thing we prole kids had to hold onto was the prospect
of a mining job at Cortonwood, Elsecar, or Wombwell Main.
If we got lucky with the 11 plus there was Wath Grammar
School . Wath Grammar, the best school in the area became
a Comprehensive in '72. Eleven plus abandoned, and catchments
invented. I got Wombwell High. William got Wath Grammar,
which went comprehensive the same year, adding to his working
'74 pit strike came and went. Family savings were spent
on necessities. Powercuts plunged the landscape into darkness.
There was Ted Heath, the Three Day Week, and the Winter
of Discontent. Sunny Jim Callaghan came along to get Labour
back to work. But, as Saatchi and Saatchis famous posters
pointed out, he failed miserably.
over the far side of the slagheaps, Young Will was turning
his back on the cricket his Dad loved so much and was developing
a fascination for the political game. Not for him the minutiae
of Leeds United's league positions or Geoff Boycott's test
centuries. Will had eyes on higher things. He studied Churchill
speeches, memorised cabinet teams and charted election results.
In True Blue Wentworth tradition he became a Conservative
and the 200 year old ghost of the Earl of Rockingham smiled
down and laid plans.
the summer of Punk Rock, when the rest of us were basking
in the uncommonly hot weather and getting our water from
standpipes in the street, William prepared a speech for
that years Conservative Party Conference. It was the cheek
of this little kid, barely able to see over the lectern,
that enchanted the party's new leader Margaret Thatcher,
not yet Prime Minister, and set young William on the road
to legend. His northern accent just added to the novelty.
the other side of the slag-heaps it felt like a sell-out
and an act of treason. The area was still smarting from
the 1974 miners' strike and the mood was still sombre. The
sight of a local kid at the heart of a blue-rinsed ruling
class jamboree was galling then, and is galling now. It
showed the working people of South Yorkshire that you couldn't
take the next generation's loyalty to Labour for granted.
Here was proof that a good education bred nowt but tiny
went up to Oxford in the days when the dons there still
looked down on northern prodigies. He proved to be quite
brilliant. A First in Politics, Economics and Philosophy.
President of the Union. Within seconds he was political
advisor to the likes of Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittain
at the heart of the new Thatcher government. By '87 he'd
taken his first step into the hustings back home in Wentworth,
and took a sound beating in a strong Labour mining constituency.
the age of 27 he was elected MP for Richmond and soon he
became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon
Norman Lamont, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Under Major's
government he became the Secretary of State for Wales (the
youngest Cabinet Minister since Harold Wilson) and won a
local reputation for his hard work and fair nature. A Yorkshireman
came the Labour Landslide of May 1997. John Major resigned
as party leader. The man widely expected to replace him,
Michael Portillo, had been famously beaten in that election
and made the party nervous of a right wing candidate. As
one of the last centre-right men standing, William Hague
stepped forward on a Euro-skeptic platform and got the job.
Leader of the Conservative Party. At his age.
"The voters of Romsey were not beguiled by William
Hague's personal brand of politics - those based on
fear and division. His is the Britain of the twitching
curtain and the locked door, where every refugee is
an economic migrant, every gay man a pervert waiting
to prey on your children and every creak in the floorboards
an intruder in your home. By concentrating on the
negative, and pandering to the small-minded, he insulted
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party writing in The
William Hague was smarting from
the recent Romsey By-election result, and once again was
wondering about his public image. Romsey was supposed to
be a huge step back into the limelight for Hague and his
Conservatives as they attempt to claw back the grass roots
Tories who defected to labour in the last two elections.
Romsey was a safe safe seat and Hague personally led the
baby-kissing. But the Liberal Democrats demolished an 8,585
majority in the Hampshire constituency and achieved a massive
12.5per cent swing from the Tories. In short a massive disaster.
Hague led a party where position on Europe can make or break
careers. And where he owed his own position to a guarded
anti-Europe stance. Elders and betters with a more pragmatic
and modern approach to the subject (Kenneth Clarke take
a last bow) had fallen by the wayside. But the electorate
was still under the Blair spell, and education and health
remained the big issues. Not Europe. So he played hardball,
latching onto Little England prejudices and failed badly.
William, try as he might, came across as nerdy and naive.
His 'hip to be square' geniality drew no votes in the aftermath
of Blair's 'Cool Britannia'. He seems as out of touch with
his contemporaries now as he did back in '76 when his Tory
Conference grandstanding clashed with punk expletives, and
left him damned as an anachronism.
All that seemed left was to take a leaf out of Thatcher's
book and counter the Tony Blair nice guy stuff with a bit
of punk style nastiness. His public image, even after wife
Ffion's 'Project Hague' re-brand, and his baseball-hatted
visit to the Notting Hill Carnival, remained awkward and
the hard man act didn't ring true. As a leader he looked
like the first man up on karaoke night, trying gamely to
rabble rouse a bored audience whilst trying to keep his
dignity. Then came the 2001 election...
Hague Resigns as Conservative Leader after Tony Blair landslide.
at Wentworth Woodhouse the ghost of the Marquis of Rockingham
still hopes for another Prime Minister to return in triumph
to the old Yorkshire pile. Horace Walpole saw Rockingham
as a "weak, childish and ignorant man, not fit as the
head of an administration". He only took the position
because of his connections with Whig giants like Edmund
Burke, Charles Fox, the Duke of Cumberland (who he fought
alongside at Culloden against the Jacobites ) and Lord John
Cavendish. In the event he "dissolved in his own weakness"
as King George III had William Pitt replace him. History
did the rest.
1765 the young Marquis from Wentworth had to wait sixteen
years to get back into No.10 Downing Street and would die
within days of the shock. In 2001 a young Wentworth folly
was again on the verge of greatness, but was ultimately
thwarted on the ultimate political prize by Tony Blair's
second landslide election win. Young William resigned before
breakfast and lived to fight another day. Time will tell
how closely history repeats.