Profile: William Hague

By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News

image source, Reuters
image caption, William Hague will stand down as an MP at the next election

William Hague has announced he is leaving his post as foreign secretary to take over as leader of the House of Commons.

The MP for Richmond in Yorkshire will also leave Parliament at the next election.

His departure from the Foreign Office was revealed during a reshuffle that has also seen the departure of senior Conservative MP Ken Clarke and Welsh Secretary David Jones from the front bench.

Early success

In his political career, Mr Hague has seen the extremes of public life.

There was astonishing early success, followed by bitter failure and a rise to the top of national - and even international - politics.

Mr Hague first came to wider attention aged just 16, when he gave the 1977 Conservative Party conference a barnstorming speech on the perils of a too-powerful state.

The blond-haired boy with the Yorkshire accent wowed with his anti-Labour rhetoric, joking to his middle-aged and elderly audience: "It's all right for you. You won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time."

image source, AP
image caption, Mr Hague joined forces with Angelina Jolie to combat rape in war zones

Thirty-three years later, Mr Hague was the holder of one of the great offices of state, a close ally of Conservative leader David Cameron and the UK's new representative on the world stage.

Recently he has led a high-profile campaign to end sexual violence in war zones, a role that has united him with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie. He is set to carry on this work as the prime minister's special envoy.


An exponent of the almost lost art of Parliamentary wit, Mr Hague is an accomplished public speaker, who earned a very good living on the after-dinner circuit after he stood down as leader of the party after its hefty defeat at the 2001 general election.

He is one of the few speakers in modern politics that journalists and other politicians can listen to expecting a few good jokes.

But his bruising experience as leader of the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001 added a sense of gravitas to his public persona.

As a member of Mr Cameron's cabinet, his northern accent and relatively modest background have provided an invaluable counterpoint to the public school, upper middle-class backgrounds of much of Mr Cameron's top team.

image source, PA
image caption, The young Hague was a hit with Margaret Thatcher

William Jefferson Hague was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, on 26 March 1961. His parents ran a soft drinks company - Hague's Dandelion and Burdock and Lemonade were two local favourites.

The young Hague used to help out with deliveries to shops and pubs in university holidays - an experience which led to one of his most famous gaffes, when he boasted to a men's magazine that because he used to be offered a drink at every stop on the route he would sometimes drink 14 pints of beer in a day.

He attended a comprehensive school, before going to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he attained a first-class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

While at Oxford, Mr Hague was president of the Union and the Conservative association.


Afterwards he attended a business school in France and worked for five years as a management consultant.

Politics, though, was his vocation.

At a by-election in 1989, Mr Hague became MP for the ultra-safe Conservative seat of Richmond, in North Yorkshire.

He rose quickly, becoming an aide to Chancellor Norman Lamont and then a social security minister.

image source, PA
image caption, Mr Hague's efforts to modernise his party's image were ridiculed by the press

In 1995, when John Major's Conservative Party was tearing itself apart over Europe, Mr Hague reached the cabinet, as Welsh secretary.

He stayed in the job until the massive defeat to Labour at the 1997 general election. As soon as Mr Major quit, Mr Hague was mentioned as a likely successor.

He won the contest and began with a couple of publicity stunts aimed at showing the Conservative Party was being reborn in a more youthful image.

Mr Hague was pictured sipping a drink with fiancee Ffion - whom he had met at the Welsh Office - from a hollowed-out coconut at the Notting Hill carnival.

Another image of the Tory leader saw him on a log flume, wearing a baseball hat and accompanied by a youthful entourage.

As opposition leader, he frequently mocked Tony Blair at prime minister's questions, winning plaudits for his witty performances.

Yet, with Labour enjoying a massive Commons majority, he had little power and was making little impact with the wider electorate.


As tends to happen to parties trailing badly in the polls, the press turned on him - there were constant jokes about his beer-drinking boast - with one tabloid newspaper running the headline "Billy Liar" - and his baseball cap wearing stunt.

And his own party - still smarting and rancorous after their 1997 defeat - also began to make life difficult for him, as he was reduced to chasing headlines to shore up his fragile position rather than concentrating on long-term policy formation.

image source, PA
image caption, Mr Hague fought the 2001 election on an anti-euro platform

Mr Hague's 2001 election campaign, with the slogan "Save the Pound", which came to be regarded by his successors at the top of the Tory party as too right-wing and old-fashioned to compete with New Labour's slick push for the centre ground.

And so it proved. The Tories only managed to cut Labour's majority to 167, from 179 in 1997.

Mr Hague went immediately and returned to the backbenches to enjoy a lucrative career as a speaker, also writing a popular biography of William Pitt, the UK's youngest prime minister - possibly with a few thoughts about what might have been.

He stayed quietly away from frontline politics for the next four years, seemingly content.


However, when David Cameron took over as Tory leader in 2005, with a determination to make the party electable after three defeats in a row, he offered a return.

Mr Hague was persuaded to come back as shadow foreign secretary. He grew close to Mr Cameron and was effectively regarded as the Conservatives' deputy leader.

In this role he came back to the Commons spotlight, sparring with Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman when the party leaders could not make it to prime minister's questions.

Mr Hague, having recovered from his 2001 disappointment, seemed to be in love with politics once more. Conservative grassroots activists seemed equally in love with him, with his conference speeches receiving a rapturous reception.

After the recent election delivered a hung parliament, he led negotiations with the Lib Dems, which resulted in the first UK coalition government since the 1940s.

When Mr Cameron announced his team, it was no surprise that Mr Hague was made foreign secretary. He was also given the title of First Secretary, previously held by Labour's Lord Mandelson - a sign that he was right back at the top.

Setting out his vision for foreign policy in a speech in July 2010 he said the UK must have more "global reach and influence" or face decline in a fast-changing world.

In his first major speech as foreign secretary, he said the UK must build its influence in Europe and create stronger links with new economic superpowers such as China, India and Brazil.

Announcing his departure four years on, he said: "[the] Role of leader of the House means I will finish in politics as I began - speaking in parliament and campaigning among the voters".

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