Will Hague ride off into the sunset?

by Kevin Meagher

Poor old William Hague. There’s no shortage of people on this side of the aisle who have a soft spot for our favourite failed Tory leader. He’s self-deprecating, quick-witted and only ever tribal in that tongue-in-cheek sort of way. But the buck has come screeching to a halt outside his door for the botched incursion into Libya by UK special forces last week. And that buck is not for shifting.

His apparent sanctioning of the “botched” boy’s own adventure has already generated reams of speculation about his future as foreign secretary and dominated today’s PMQs. The cod psychology in today’s papers is equally feverish. Kevin Maguire in the Mirror raises the possibility that there is a darker tale to tell in this story of derring do (or perhaps derring d’oh!), that perhaps the incursion team may have been on a “black ops” mission.

Quentin Letts over at the Mail offers Hague sorrow rather than sarcasm, blaming three weeks’ worth of 16-hour days for taking their toll on his performance. When Mr. Letts feels sorry for you, boy, you’ve got a big problem.

Meanwhile, insight of the day goes to Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian who suggests that Hague is disengaged as foreign secretary because he secretly harbours ambitions to open a farm in rural Montana. Yes, seriously.

Lord Carrington was the last foreign secretary to quit in office, in 1982 after Argentina invaded the Falklands. Of course, on this occasion no one, thankfully, is dead and the real damage done to the UK is minimal, despite the hoo haa.

Hague should get past this episode – if he wants to. But his real crime in our modern, celebrity-infused, image-drenched politics is this: he has inadvertently trashed Britain’s only two world power superbrands: MI6 and the SAS. Unforgiveable.

All he needs to do now is to forget to post off our annual subs to the UN security council and it will be curtains for Britain’s place in the world. No longer, in the words of his predecessor Douglas Hurd, “boxing above our weight”, we will have been beaten by a technical knock out in the third.

We already have the Americans briefing that they have brought the treacherous Sangin area of Afghanistan to heel in five months when the British could not do so in four years. Perhaps Hague could round off a week of diplomatic gun-slinging by suggesting the Yanks can have the whole place to themselves if that is their attitude.

But Hague’s difficulties expose an interesting turn of fate for this government. Many of the superstar performers of Cameron’s top team in opposition have failed to shine in office.

Hague finds himself in august, if unexpected, company.

Education secretary, Michael Gove, has been similarly beset with difficulties acclimatising to office. Smart and talented, he is also accident-prone and a bit gauche. Meanwhile Ken Clarke’s well-worn ‘ordinary bloke’ routine doesn’t seem to wash any more, resembling, as he now does, some mad old duffer making throwaway remarks about the state of the economy in between bouts of liberal hand-wringing on penal policy.

In contrast, some of the cabinet’s more competent performers have come from unlikely quarters. Home secretary Theresa May has lost that hunted look, becoming – so far – as sure-footed a home secretary as any of her immediate predecessors.

Loathe him or loathe him, there is no doubt Eric Pickles has made a mark as communities secretary, casting his not insignificant shadow over local government. He is plainly not to all tastes, but he has wasted no opportunity to put his stamp on his department (however deleterious that may be) and rides out to meet his opponents head-on.

The only constant in Cameron’s team appears to be George Osborne. The chancellor remains, by far, the government’s most impressive political operator. Oh how we would love to hear him bray and flare those aristocratic nostrils and give the game away. But canny Osborne has the disciplined, single-mindedness of his bête brune, Gordon Brown. Surely the ultimate insult and compliment rolled into one.

He has by far the toughest gig at the treasury and his fall would be spectacularly hard if the shaky economic recovery founders. But his early success in winning the high ground on deficit reduction has given him valuable breathing space. And he has cleverly made sure individual ministers are responsible for the departmenticide emanating from the spending squeeze.

As the second youngest cabinet minister of the 20th Century, perhaps William Hague’s problem is simply more mundane: he’s been there before. He knows that being a minister is not the be all and end all. There is light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s not the glint of the chandelier at an embassy soiree.

The prospect of writing well-received political biographies by night after a hard day in the saddle herding cattle might just now look a more attractive option. Perhaps the drag of mending diplomatic fences will give way to the splinter-tastic experience of mending real ones?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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3 Responses to “Will Hague ride off into the sunset?”

  1. How any politician could not be completely engrossed in the role of Foreign Secretary is beyond me…has to be the best job in politics in my book

  2. Kevin Meagher says:

    At the very least, amazing air miles…

  3. MG says:

    William Hague was born on the 26 March 1961. That means he turns 50 this month. Don’t underestimate the effect this must be having on him. He’s clearly doing some serious reflecting about his life so far and what he wants his future to be once he hits this milestone. In my opinion he’s just burnt out and is a salutory lesson of why it’s not a good idea to rush into politics so early so you’re knackered and jaded when you actually reach the summit. Dan Hodges’ article talking about new MPs as the next Labour leader was frightening. I hope Stella, Chuka and any other MPs in the 2010 cohort blank out all thoughts of future leadership contests otherwise I fear they will end up like William Hague….

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