The time Miss Whiplash wanted “little Willy” Hague

Leader of the House William Hague
Leader of the House William Hague
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WILLIAM Hague has set out how he started at the top of Yorkshire politics because no one else wanted the job, the election foe who campaigned in Richmond, Surrey and why his next book might be on how to speak civil servant.

Looking back on his career as he enters his last month as an MP, Mr Hague has reflected on the lessons learnt over more than 30 years in politics.

Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy William Hague

Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy William Hague

Thinking of his time dealing with civil servants, Mr Hague said the language of Whitehall could do with a translation service.

“I fought a long campaign to stop the Foreign Office putting the word ongoing in any document,” Mr Hague said. “Or calling anything a strategy that was not one.”

“Every time an official says ‘we have drawn up a strategic plan,’ this means it is a piece of work that is just a bit longer than normal.

“‘We are scaling up our response’ means we never expected this to happen.

“‘There has been some push back in Government’ means No 10 hates it.

“‘Our work is ongoing to find a solution’ means we are nowhere near finishing this work.

“‘There is a spread of opinion about your proposal’ means none of us think it is a good idea.

“‘We have been around the houses with this’ - no one else thinks it is a good idea.

“And ‘We are scrubbing through the options minister’ means by the time this policy comes back you will not recognise it.”

Life in politics for Mr Hague has not all been Whitehall conflict.

His political journey started even before winning his Richmond seat.

“Careers can be built on small, chance events,” he said. “In 1977 I was encouraged to go along to a meeting of the young Conservatives in the Rother Valley, and I did. I became chairman, because no one else showed up. The local press said it would be like heading the Liberal party in Shanghai, which it was really.”

Politics, Mr Hague added, was about ups and downs.

“The ups started when I was 16. I still remember the scene of Sir David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, racing down the aisle as I came down the rostrum, saying ‘this kid is dynamite, I’m going to make him a star’. Which he did.

“A year later, only a year later, I was on Private Eye’s list of who never to invite to a Christmas party, on the grounds that I was already a political has-been at 17.”

Speaking of the by-election which won him his seat, Mr Hague found a few more low points in his dealings with the press.

“I remember Bob Carvell, political editor of the Evening Standard at that time, as I announced proudly one day in the absence of any policy I could announce at the press conference, that a 100-year-old lady had just joined the Conservative party in the constituency and he thought for a minute and asked ‘why has it taken you a century to win over this woman?’”

Mr Hague added: “It was an entertaining by-election. One of my opponents, Screaming Lord Sutch, who spent his first day campaigning in Richmond Surrey by mistake, came to Yorkshire with a policy to bring in a 99p coin so you did not have to give a penny change any more. About 300 of my constituents voted for him.

“Also in the by-election was Miss Whiplash, Lindi St. Clair, who stood against me for the Corrective party. There was the dreadful day she came into my headquarters, crashed her whip down and demanded to see Little Willy. Little Willy was out canvassing at the time, which was a very good place to be.”

He also revealed his first time out campaigning with popular Tory Boris Johnson.

“The first time I went to campaign with Boris as a candidate was in North Wales. I said: ‘How are you getting on Boris?’ He said: ‘It is going to be huge.’ I said: ‘Well, what is going to be huge?’ And he said: ‘I don’t know but it is going to be huge.’ And in that case the swing to Labour was huge.”