IN THE end, it is perhaps fitting that the man who entered the political stage at a precociously early age has chosen early retirement as his preferred mode of exit.
Except, of course, that William Hague’s departure from politics next year will be anything but retirement in the normal sense of that word. One of the prime reasons why the Richmond MP was always a highly effective politician was because he never let politics dominate his life and he has much he wishes to accomplish outside Parliament.
One of the most entertaining and knowledgeable MPs, as well as one of the most intelligent, Mr Hague had given the impression lately that politics, even in the role of Foreign Secretary, had become too constraining for him and that he was itching to spend more time on his wider interests, from writing biographies to humanitarian campaigning.
But if his heart was not in his job in recent months – he was said to be particularly chastened by the Commons defeat over Syria – that should not detract from the record of political achievement he leaves behind.
It is easy to forget now how bleak the Conservative Party’s future looked in 1997 when Mr Hague took over the leadership. Humiliated by New Labour, confused as to its future direction, it was this son of Rotherham who gave the party hope again.
And though he, too, was defeated in 2001, he took the fight to Tony Blair in a way that clearly discomfited the then Prime Minister and began the process whereby the hollowness of New Labour was gradually exposed.
In so doing, he became not only a Tory Party favourite, but also a hugely respected figure across all political parties, helped considerably by his skill as a debater and his genial and engaging nature.
His value in giving credibility to David Cameron’s Tory modernisation project was shown by his invitation to return to the front bench in 2005 and his ensuing role as a key member of the coalition, one he will continue to play in the run-up to the General Election.
And undoubtedly one of the key sources of the credibility and gravitas which Mr Hague has brought to politics is his solid Yorkshire family background and his sound Yorkshire common sense.
An invaluable voice for the North during his time in Parliament, and a tireless and diligent local MP, Mr Hague’s influence will be missed more in this region than perhaps anywhere else. Which is why The Yorkshire Post wishes him well in all his future endeavours.
A change of image
But what is the Tory message?
WITH ANY Conservative Cabinet reshuffle, it is usually a matter of time before a Labour frontbencher reaches for the phrase “lurch to the Right” to describe what is going on.
And on first appearances, it seems that the Opposition may be on safer ground than usual in employing this hackneyed phrase to describe the most ambitious re-arrangement of his Cabinet that David Cameron has yet attempted.
Indeed, with a new, Eurosceptic Foreign Secretary in Philip Hammond, the sacking of Dominic Grieve who, as Attorney General, was a strong defender of the Human Rights Act, and the departure of an arch-moderniser such as Greg Barker as Energy Minister, it is decidedly not a shift to the Left.
But the Prime Minister’s principal purpose is to win an election and therefore this is a reshuffle aimed essentially at reconnecting with the public, whether those voters tempted to plump for the UK Independence Party in 2015 or those who perceive the Cabinet as the preserve of white males who have little or no understanding of the problems facing the average British family.
This is one reason why there are now two mothers in the Cabinet, including Nicky Morgan who succeeds Michael Gove as Education Secretary in the most shocking move of the day.
The more this appointment is considered, however, the less shocking it seems. Mr Gove had become the biggest obstacle to his own reforms, having upset everyone from Ofsted to the teaching unions, and Mrs Morgan will present a far more emollient face to her opponents while continuing to pursue the school reforms which the Prime Minister has always said are central to his vision for transforming Britain’s fortunes.
Mr Cameron’s new female appointments, however,
will hopefully succeed in their roles not because they are women but because they are highly capable people. And the danger with billing this as a reshuffle for women is that it gives the impression it is being done for merely tokenistic reasons.
It also implies that the focus of the Government’s last year in office is on presentation rather than policy. And if Mr Cameron is truly serious about winning the General Election, that is the very last sort of message he should be conveying.