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William Hague MP
William Hague MP
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: WILLIAM HAGUE MP DECEMBER 16TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And now at the beginning of the year William Hague was defiantly talking of saving the pound and Tory hopes for victory at the ballot box, these days he's spending life a little more quietly, he's taken up the piano, he's doing more long walks and he's ready for us right now and we're delighted to welcome him for his first television interview since stepping down as Conservative Party Leader. William good morning to you.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: It's very good to have you with us, as you look back over your years of leadership William, what do you look back as, look back on as your greatest achievement and your biggest mistake?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think overall we put the Conservative Party in a stronger position for the future, I certainly hope that we have, I think we'll have a far better chance at the next election than we ever really had at the last election and I think with the huge increase in the number of Conservative councillors we've got a much stronger base for the Conservative Party across the country. And of course we, we ended the deep division over Europe that characterised the election before the last one, so a lot of that has been put right, of course there's more work to do and I think Iain Duncan Smith will do extremely well and that our chances in the next election will be better than they were in the last one. I sincerely hope so.

DAVID FROST: And what about the greatest mistake of those years?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well maybe I'll dissect all the mistakes at a later date but I've said before, so I'll give you one mistake, I've said before that I made a mistake in not, not stopping Jeffrey Archer at an earlier stage for standing for Mayor of London, I think that was a mistake and a readily own up to that mistake. But I think overall the Conservative Party has a far better chance in this Parliament than we had in the last Parliament, we all have to keep working at it to make sure that bears fruit.

DAVID FROST: When, when William did it occur to you and talking maybe to Ffion or whatever, when did it occur to you that you weren't going to win this election?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it looked difficult for a long time, of course it did, as you know you were always trying to get me to say that we were definitely going to lose, of course political leaders don't say those sorts of things. But of course, of course it was very difficult and it always looked like people were going to give Labour the benefit of the doubt, that they'd voted them in in 1997 and really in their minds people had voted them in for longer than the four years and although they weren't delivering on their promises, on health and schools and so on, people were going to give them the benefit of the doubt and that is what they did. Now they won't give them the benefit of the doubt again, they do expect them to deliver this time, in this Parliament and giving them as much benefit of the doubt as they're going to give them. So I think it always looked pretty difficult but when you're faced with difficult situation it's the job of the leader to keep up morale and to keep everybody fighting and to do their best and that's what we did.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the, the backbiting that people have talked about, going on behind the scenes, your, your people versus Michael Portillo's people and so on, and all of those things that have been documented in, for instance Simon Walters' book Tory War, or in Amanda's documentary, did in fact bringing Michael, Michael Portillo back into the team add to the unity or take away from it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Certainly bringing talented people into a team adds to it and that's what happened in that situation. A lot of those stories are hugely exaggerated, there's no doubt about that, within any political party there are tensions from time to time, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could tell you all about that. But a lot of those stories are hugely exaggerated and that was not our fundamental problem at the last election, the bigger problem was that bigger picture that I've just been talking about of the, the general feeling of the voters out there and that is what is going to change.

DAVID FROST: And what, what figure had you privately set yourself as a target on the basis of which you could stay as leader William, I mean it was 164, 165, 166, that's where we were, did you think I would stay if we get 220?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I didn't have a fixed figure because of course election outcomes can be peculiar, you can gain a lot of votes but not many seats, you can gain a lot of seats but not many votes and so I thought we would know success if it was there, we'd see it if it was there and it wasn't sufficiently successful although we did increase the, our proportion of the vote for me to carry on as the leader so I thought we should make a change straight away. So it wasn't a fixed target but I thought we needed to make a good step forward at least to winning, for me to be able to show that I would win the next election, for me to carry on as the leader.

DAVID FROST: How difficult was it William, the debate that went on when the result became clear, were people really begging you to stay and others thinking you had every right to leave, did you ever yo-yo backwards and forwards or was your mind made up from the very first second and all the people who were arguing for you to stay didn't have an earthly, I mean what?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I'd really made up my mind, in fact I'd written my speech of resignation while the polls were still open because I could see the way that it was, it was going, so I had made up my mind about that and yes many colleagues urge me to carry on, Iain Duncan Smith was, was one of them, he didn't want the job for himself, he was one of my most loyal colleagues and begged me to carry on. But I wasn't going to be persuaded by, by, on this occasion by Iain or any of the others because I had made up my mind and I think it was right and I have no regrets about becoming the leader of the party when I did or indeed ceasing to be the leader of the party when I did. I think in both situations we did the right thing.

DAVID FROST: What is, what is your plan now for life and living William, I mean in the sense, do you plan to have lots of different jobs, take things a bit easier, write your memoirs, walk?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I mean I'm already, I'm enjoying doing lots of other things, I would rather have won the election, let's be straightforward about that, but I think when you have a big setback in life you have to pick yourself up and get on with life and losing an election is nothing compared to what you just, you were showing me excerpts of your interview with Giuliani that I think will be very interesting, nothing compared to what people over there have had to put up with, we must see life in perspective. And so I think you have to pick yourself up and get on with other things and I'm enjoying doing things that I've always wanted to do and I've taken up some business interests that I'm enjoying, I haven't done that for about ten years, I've taken up a few other interests like musical ones that you mentioned earlier on, I'm spending more time with Ffion, I've rediscovered friends I haven't seen for many years, so there's quite a pleasant side personally to the situation although I would rather have won the election. And I'm going to carry on in that vein for the foreseeable future, I'm having quite a good time to be honest.

DAVID FROST: Well that's good news, and tell me with, with your well known sense of humour as well, what's the one piece of advice born of experience that you would pass on to IDS about being Tory leader?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well don't take too much notice of any criticism, I mean I can see it now, you know he gets criticised in the newspapers but he should just stick to what he is and to who he is, here we've got a man who is honest, well informed, intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working and right about everything he speaks about in my opinion, what more do we want. You know that is a, that is a great combination in a political leader and I would say to him, I have said to him don't be deflected by the criticism that you will get from time to time, be yourself and continue to have those qualities.

DAVID FROST: Yes because he's been criticised for the very thing that you were praised for, which was his performances at PMQs?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think that's unfair but in any case it didn't do me any good did it, so I don't think he should worry this, I don't think he should worry about being criticised for that, he's got many, many strengths and they will show through and to my mind they're already showing through. I think we've chosen the right man and I think he'll do very well.

DAVID FROST: And what about the future in terms of Westminster, are you thinking of standing again as an MP at the next election or taking your seat in the Lords?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I will stand again at the next election, I wouldn't presume to have a seat in any other place but I intend to stand again here in my Richmond Yorkshire constituency at the next election. One of the things of course that I can do and am doing with greater, the greater freedom that I have now, is spend more time in my constituency and fight for the interests of my constituency, very severely hit by foot and mouth disease and the failure of the government to deal properly with that, and to deal properly now with the aftermath of it and so I'm spending more time here in Yorkshire and I'm enjoying doing that and it needs it and so I'm going to apply myself to that over the next few years and I will stand again at the next election.

DAVID FROST: In terms of elections, the last election, I think, in the, everybody seemed to say afterwards, hindsight's a wonderful thing, that, that in fact your party had concentrated too much on the, on the issues of Europe and asylum and not enough on health and education and transport and so on. Do you think in retrospect that's a fair comment or is that just hindsight?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think one needs a longer time to tell about those things, I think there is a much bigger opportunity for our party on health and education at the next election because then, as I was mentioning earlier, I think the failure of the government to deliver, and are not going to deliver on the health service from everything I can see, I think the failure of the government to deliver will give the opposition a far greater opportunity than at the last election. So I think we can make much more of those issues at the next election. Of course the other issues that we fought the election on are important, remember that on asylum the government have now had to adopt about half the things that, that I was suggesting in the election, that they were accusing me of being a racist and everything else at the time for putting forward, is Europe important, it is important, of course it is and we're seeing now in the European Summit that's just been held the last couple of days, more and more of the, of the rights of our country being steadily given away. These things were important but people are very worried about the public services and our opportunity to show that we have a better agenda for them will come at the next election, it didn't come at the last election.

DAVID FROST: So you would, if you were doing it again you'd rebalance it a bit?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well that's not what, I gave a longer answer than your attempt to summarise my answer, what I'm really saying is that politics changes over time and yes we will fight, I'm sure we will fight the next election on some different issues and additional issues to the ones on which we fought the last election and we will be right to do so because the opportunity's changes, the important issues changed but I certainly don't take back anything that I said about the asylum system or the Euro, these are important issues, they remain important issues and you can see that just in what's happened since the general election.

DAVID FROST: And of course there's been a big change really, Michael Howard, do you support that Michael Howard statement as Shadow Chancellor that now tax cuts are second in importance and first of all public services, improving the public services number one and tax cuts very much relegated to number two, do you support that change?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes I support all the statements of Michael Howard and of Iain Duncan Smith, I believe not only being loyal to the party leadership when I was the leader, but I believe in being loyal to the party leadership now I'm not the leader and that is what I will be. Circumstances change, the political position changes, public services are vital, the Conservatives will always be the party of lower taxes than the Labour Party, and we've had huge tax rises and I think we're going to have some more under Gordon Brown, so we'll always be the party of lower taxes but we're the party of good public services too and I admire Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard for trying to get that across.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much for being with us today William and we'll be watching closely...

WILLIAM HAGUE: It's a great pleasure.

DAVID FROST: When you go back into the House of Commons, whether they lure you back onto that front bench some time in the next 40 years, it's possible I suppose, anyway you've got years and years ahead of you...and thank you for being with us today and Merry Christmas.

WILLIAM HAGUE: And to you, thank you very much David.

DAVID FROST: William Hague there.

END


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