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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 09:07 GMT
Conservative views
On Sunday 18 December 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

William Hague MP
William Hague MP

ANDREW MARR: Now 20 years ago he was worrying Tory delegates and Margaret Thatcher at Blackpool, a teenage Tory going places.

Eight years ago, he'd arrived, the youngest Tory leader in more than a century, and four years later that was all over, his moment at the top of the tree already finished.

But then a strange thing happened: stripped of power, his reputation and fortune both flourished and now he's back as Shadow Foreign Secretary. William, good morning.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: A million quid - it was a million quid, was it? A Year?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yeah, something like that, yeah, it was. Quite a lot to give up or most of it.


WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, two things really. One, very seriously, I thought I, I thought I should.


WILLIAM HAGUE: I thought this was a rare moment for the Conservative Party. We have got an exceptional new leader - I've been working with him for ten days now, I know that's not very long but I can see he's a truly exceptional person, I think there's a chance to get a team around him that actually has some strength in-depth, which perhaps we've lacked in the past.

And secondly I think I can come back into politics on an entirely new basis. Normally, people, politicians of course, as well as thinking about the issues are thinking about their careers and their own position. I've been the leader of the party, I don't want to be the leader of the party ever again, so I can't be promoted, I'm very relaxed about what happens if you're not in politics, because I've had the best time of my life the last four years, so I think I can come back in without fear or favour.

ANDREW MARR: You've got the safety harness on. Was it a moment when you felt you had to return to politics full time or give it up completely in terms of the constituency and all the rest of it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes I think I did, I think I was getting near to that point, really - and hugely enjoying the other things I've been doing, particularly writing - and I still want to finish, actually, a book I've already started and that's part way done on William Wilberforce, but I won't be able to start a new book, I think anyway, while I'm on the front bench in politics.

So I had reached a point where it was either get back involved in politics or, or forget it. And I think it was, I think it was worth another go, you know, and joining in, as I say, in an exciting moment when I think we can actually make some real progress now.

ANDREW MARR: But how comfortable are you about the way that the new leader is positioning his politics? Talking about the environment, talking about clasping asylum seekers to our hearts and effectively saying let's not bang on about Europe too much.

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I'm very comfortable with that - after all, I of all people have learnt the lessons of the last eight years in opposition, which has not been very successful for us. And actually all we're saying here is let's be true to ourselves instead of being depicted as something that we are not.

We, and all the people who work with us, are the people who are involved, all round the country, in local conservation projects, in local charities and voluntary groups. Why allow ourselves to be depicted as this harsh bunch of people who don't care about anything? We've got to put that right.

ANDREW MARR: And yet other people will say that by, by pulling back a little bit from all the rhetoric on Europe you're going to let the Prime Minister off the hook.

I mean here he comes back from Brussels with a deal which in the old days would have caused a huge furore in the Conservative ranks and in the newspapers, and it seems that the people who are really going for him come from the Treasury, not from the Tory front bench at all.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think I've been saying quite a lot about him the last couple of days. We would have supported him had he done what he said he was going to do - which was to get some real reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in return for giving up part of our rebate.

So we are prepared to support him when he does the right thing but he's ended up with deal very bad for this country, and Europe I think, in the long run, and for developing countries - because the EU's farm policy is a great obstacle for the world trade talks. So he's given up a great deal and it is quite revealing that the Chancellor had not allowed, at all, for giving up that money. So that it's further added to the black hole in his finances.

ANDREW MARR: What about all this stuff about saying to the Lib-Dems come on all over, we're all one big happy family? I mean these are the absolute euro-federalists who were your total enemy when you were leader and now you're all saying ...

WILLIAM HAGUE: ... the European, the European debate is changing now, the European constitution has been stopped dead in its tracks by the voters of France and the Netherlands - quite rightly. The euro is off the agenda in this country - I don't know a single Member of Parliament who thinks we should join the euro in the next few years.

The European debate is now more about how can Europe survive in its current form over the next few years. How, how is its economy going to face the challenge of China and India? How are we going to engage and bring in the countries of the Balkans? And these are issues on which people across parties can start to work together, so I think, again, we're at an exciting change in British politics here.

ANDREW MARR: And just talk me through Europe, an experienced observer of these things, what you think is going on at the moment inside the Cabinet.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think Tony Blair has decided he's not got results from all the money that's been spent on education and health. He knows the only way to get results in, say, education, is to give greater freedom to schools at the local level. He knows that is the right thing to do.

Now the question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means he has to rely on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott, and others, clearly on display in the newspapers today? And if he is going to give in to that, what on earth has he been Prime Minister for, for the last eight years? It's going to be a very empty legacy if he is not going to do the right thing. So I think this is going to be a revealing few months in the Cabinet.

ANDREW MARR: And when it comes to your new role of Shadow Foreign Secretary, Iraq is still there as a big issue, your party, almost all of it, was a supporter of the war, what's your view about exit strategy and timing? This is another of those issues where you're actually shoulder to shoulder with the Labour government.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we've had grave concerns about how Iraq has been handled since the invasion. We did agree with the action against Iraq but we've had great concerns, partly about how the case for the war was put together publicly and the whole background to that - of course a lot of that is with the benefit of hindsight - and we've very great concerns about some of the mistakes that have been made in the administration of Iraq.

However there are one or two hopeful signs - let's be fair about this. The elections that took place a few days ago had a higher turnout than any election in Britain or America in recent years and, as surveys have shown, people in Iraq are more optimistic about the future. So what we mustn't do is pull the rug from under those people trying to establish democracy in Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: And with the euro off the agenda, for the time being, and the constitution, as you say, flat on its back, are you now comfortable with our membership of the European Union for the foreseeable future?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh yes, we're comfortable with membership of the European Union but we want the European Union to change and we want it to be a more modern, open, flexible Europe - a Europe that brings in Turkey, that is able to bring in other countries in the future, that gets rid of some of its outdated policies.

It is a stagnating and declining part of the world economy and the need for action is urgent. The tragedy is that at something like the summit this week they've not been talking about the action they need to take.

ANDREW MARR: David Cameron is still on his honeymoon but if something extraordinary happened, you're not looking me in the eye and saying I'll never be leader of the Conservative Party again.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I, I never intend to be leader of the party again. I, I - David Cameron is younger than me, he is, from everything I can see, going to be a great success as leader of the Conservative Party.

I hope he's going to prime minister for many, many years to come and I certainly don't - I don't ever want to be leader of the Conservative Party again. I've come back into politics in an entirely, on an entirely relaxed basis about what happens to me personally. I just want to see him succeed and a Conservative government elected.

ANDREW MARR: A relaxed William Hague - thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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