AS THE sun smiled on Richmond yesterday the priority for most was to bask in the good weather, enjoy an ice cream, or simply sit down for a while and watch the world go by.
But as friends and neighbours met up outside the shops in the market place it was clear this was no ordinary day and one topic dominated many conversations. There was genuine surprise at William Hague’s announcement that he would step down as Richmond MP at the next General Election.
The news sent ripples throughout his constituency with many saying he had worked hard for local people, while others lamented how he would be a hard act to follow.
Staff at his constituency office said when the party faithful were out canvassing locally there was no need to tell people about who William Hague was and what he stood for – in fact it was not unusual to come across people who had met him.
Barrie Proctor, who runs Barrie’s Ices, which has a kiosk in the market place said: “I have met him a few times and he has always been willing to stop and chat.
“He even came and bought an ice cream off me.
“He’s very approachable.”
“It’s a shock, that’s for sure,” he said of the news.
“I thought he would end up leader of the party. I think it will be very difficult to replace him, obviously they will replace him but I think that they will have difficulty getting somebody as well liked.”
Mr Hague cut his election teeth with defeat at the 1987 General Election in the Labour stronghold of Wentworth, near Rotherham – where he was born on March 26, 1961 – but within two years was in Parliament, winning a by-election in Richmond.
There was genuine sadness at the news with many saying he has done a good job and highlighted local issues, but there are some who thought the MP’s focus had shifted more away from his constituency while he also served as Foreign Secretary.
Vince Anderson, said he thought he had done a good job but since being appointed Foreign Secretary “to me he has lost his way completely”.
It has to be said that while many expressed their sadness there were some who were simply nonchalant about the news, saying politics failed to connect with them.
One woman who asked not to be named added: “It doesn’t bother me. I’m not interested to be honest.”
Mr Hague has said he told Prime Minister David Cameron of his decision to give up the Richmond seat he will have held for 26 years last summer, but such was the shock of the announcement that it did not stop one or two furrowed brows yesterday and people speculating and pondering whether the public had been told the real truth about what had led to the announcement.
But that did not dampen the outpourings of gratitude from the public and from Mr Hague himself.
“I wish to thank my constituents in Richmond, Yorkshire, one of the greatest places on earth, for their emphatic support through thick and thin over such a long period,” Mr Hague said.
At his constituency office in Northallerton staff said people were genuinely shocked by the announcement.
Constituency agent, Matthew Vickers, said yesterday: “I think its fair to say that there’s a lot of shocked and disappointed people and we have had a lot of messages of support from members and constituents alike.
“He has never forgotten his constituency, he is committed to the party and the country but he is super committed to his constituency.
“When you knock on a door canvassing everyone has met him.”
He confirmed applications to replace him would open shortly and it was up to Party members to appoint a successor.
There were also tributes from Mr Hague’s Westminster colleagues. His deputy at the Foreign Office, Baroness Warsi, paid tribute to her former boss on Twitter, saying it had been a pleasure to work with and learn from one of the best in modern-day politics.
• Richmond is the safest Conservative seat in the country. The constituency covers a huge rural area and includes Catterick, Catterick Garrison, Hawes, Leyburn, Northallerton, and Richmond. William Hague has held the seat since 1989 and in the 2010 General Election, Richmond produced the largest majority for a Conservative candidate in the polls, with Mr Hague securing 62.8 per cent of the vote.
As well as being the MP for Richmond, Mr Hague has held a number of other significant political posts during his long career.
He was catapulted to national attention as a 16-year-old when he unleashed his now familiar Yorkshire oratory on the 1977 party conference.
He was the leader of the opposition between 1997 and 2001 and Foreign Secretary from 2010.