Thursday, February 16, 2006

 

Hague set to become Cameron Rival?

I've wondered, in retrospect why I rated William Hague so poorly when he lead his party. Since his resignation in 2001, it seems to me, he has emerged as a mature and interesting man in place of the unimpressive plonker wearing that baseball hat. Reading his wonderful biography of the Younger Pitt helped a lot- and that Cockerell documentary on Tory leaders as well. Maybe I was just being partisan- so many of our convictions are shaped by the things we dislike or hate. I've always been a moderate kind of Labour supporter but became hugely exercised by the Thatcher era; seeing her face on the television was enough to push my blood pressure up to apoplexy levels. I kind of regret this as a political analyst should always try to distance judgement from the partisan fray.

Another example is Kenneth Baker. For some reason I found this guy the quintessence of everything I hated in the Thatcherite ethos: smarmy, biddable and prepared to trim every policy to gain a personal purchase on power. He supported Heath with the same loathsome enthusiasm as he did Thatcher and then, when he claimed the victory in Wandsworth council in 1990 reflected the merits of the Poll tax, I felt like becoming an urban guerilla. Then I met the guy a few years back to interview him in connection with some research and he was so charming, so helpful, so insightful, so mocking of the insincere sarabands of politics, I could not fail to warm to him.

Hague's performance at PMQs yesterday-where he substituted for a leader busy changing nappies- had a similar effect on me. His opening joke was a cracker: 'It's probably the first time in history of question time that all three parties have been represented by a stand-in for the real leader.' Gordon could be seen smiling but inwardly I bet he was growling. Later on, when he clashed again with Blair over the terror legislation, Hague advised him to seek the 'opinion of a decent lawyer... you've probably got one at home.'

Someone in this form prompts one to wonder if he might ever regret stepping down and then renouncing any further ambition for the top job. My reading of politicians is that, once they have caught it, they never really shake off the disease; they always somewhere, deep down, are convinced they would make a wonderful Prime Minister. I wouldn't mind betting that Cameron, in the increasingly likely event he becomes PM, will find a rival in his Cabinet, no less serious than the one faced by Blair since 1997 in the form of his near neghbour.

Comments:
Kenneth Baker, my one abiding memory of him was of him asking a Labour minister why didn't he live in a council house if he was so concerned about the poor.

Yes, he was that awful.
 
You make me think, Elephunt, that harold laski must have been thinking of me when he advised socialists to beware the politeness of the ruling classes- it's yet another weapon in their armoury. Maybe I was too naive. But, if someone is charming and witty and interesting it's a bit hard to kep on thinking they are a bastard.
 
I've shaken Shaun Woodward's hand,I'd prefer to meet Ken Baker any day :)
 
Interesting this hand-shaking business, Elephunt. Paisley won't shake hands with the Sinn Fein leaders and I recall in the early 80s when Matthew Parris came to speak at a conference I was chairing at the university. He walked over to shake the hand of the next speaker- Terry Fields, the Liverpool fireman who became a Militant MP- and Fields refused, presumably because he represented 'the enemy'. In the circumstances I thought Fields did himself a disservice; that degree of fanatical commitment tends to repel in a mass democracy. But one had to admire the Militants for only accepting as a salary, the average wage fro a working man- the remainder was given to the movement.
 
Doesn't Dennis Skinner do something similar? Never met Fields although I know a couple of people from Broadgreen who thought he was a first rate MP. I suppose you have to have an admiration,grudging or not, for anyone who actually 'walks the walk'.
 
I'm sure Skinner would be similar. He's also fanatical about accepting gifts that might compromise; he once refused an offer of a cup of tea on those grounds. I can imagine Fields being a good MP; he gave a reasonably good talk-my concern at the time- but he was short on charm and, unusually for a Liverpudlian, humour.
 
To return to the original point - absolutely no question about it Skipper. Hague will eventually be embraced as the candidate of the right to halt the leftward drift of the New Conservatives under Cameron in precisely the way the left has embraced Brown as the keeper of the cloth cap. Ultimately the tensions in the party will become so strong that Cameron will come under pressure to give way to his older rival, just as Blair is being forced to do.
 
Interesting speculation Paul. I wonder if any bookie would give us odds: Hague in power by, say, 2114?
 
Sorry, I meant 2014 of course.
 
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