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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Why they all love Hague

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It says something about the Tories that senior figures have suddenly fallen in love with William Hague.

Maybe it is the comparison with Iain Duncan Smith that has brought about this revisionism.

But there is regular talk within the Tory ranks nowadays about how Mr Hague would make a great leader - before they quickly catch themselves out and add "one day".

Former frontbencher Crispin Blunt was notably enthusiastic about such an idea when being questioned about who he wants to replace Mr Duncan Smith.

But before anyone gets too carried away, they need to be reminded that Mr Hague has unequivocally ruled out a swift return to the front line.

He, better than anyone else other than Mr Duncan Smith himself, understands what it is like to try and unite the current Tory Party.

And, while he must have been bruised by his experience, there are no signs he is a masochist.

Impossible to lead

It also seems to need pointing out that Mr Hague failed to deliver precisely the sort of breakthrough the Tory dissenters are demanding.

He too pulled off a pretty good local election performance this time four years ago - but still went on to lose the general election.

Indeed it is regularly claimed that the Tories are so riven by squabbling and serious ideological divides that they have become impossible to lead.

Not until they learn the lesson of disunity - as did Labour in the 1990s - will they truly get their act together, it is argued.

William Hague was indeed a far better performer, particularly in the Commons, than his critics ever gave him credit for. And he will probably get a better write up in the history books than he did at the time.

He regularly bested Tony Blair in the Commons and is still one of the few speakers worth leaving the bars in Westminster to listen to.

What is highly likely is that at some time the still youthful backbencher will be given a senior shadow cabinet and, eventually, cabinet post.

He could certainly handle any top job offered to him - Chancellor or Foreign Secretary for example.

And maybe, just maybe, when the Tories have rebuilt themselves he could make a comeback.

But at the moment he appears to be enjoying himself far too much to volunteer for the rack.

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