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Breakfast with Frost
William Hague MP, former Conservative party leader
William Hague MP, former Conservative party leader
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: WILLIAM HAGUE MP FORMER CONSERVATIVE LEADER SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: And it's now about 12 minutes to the start [of the Liberty and Livelihood march] isn't it, William? Ten o'clock is kick off time isn't it, for a lot of the walkers and so on?

WILLIAM HAGUE: It is.

DAVID FROST: Very good to see you, the one and only William Hague is here, and he's going on the march - Alun Michael's not going on the march, you are going on the march, why are you going and why should Alun Michael go too?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I represent a very rural constituency in North Yorkshire, it's a good example there of what's happened in the countryside. Devastated last year by foot and mouth, utterly incompetently handled by the Government who refused to hold a public inquiry into it; major problems of rural services and the future of farming, and what do the Government choose to spend their time on, not solving these problems but bringing in bills to ban hunting. Now that is a completely wrong priority for this country and for the countryside and that is why all these things are connected. Yes, people are demonstrating today about hunting but also about a wide range of rural issues. What they particularly resent is the only rural issue the Government wants to address in a serious way is hunting.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of agitating and so on, I mean I think you could say the march has been hijacked to a certain extent by hunting, hasn't it? Or, as Alun Michael put it, it started with hunting and then the rest of the -

WILLIAM HAGUE: Hunting is obviously a major component - saying it's been hijacked by hunting is a bit like saying a plane has been hijacked by British Airways, you know, obviously hunting is a major part of rural ...

DAVID FROST: If it was a Virgin plane it would be.

WILLIAM HAGUE: But it's not, if Alun Michael wanted to go along and express his views, his solidarity with other countryside issues, I'm sure they would welcome him. And in fact I remember a government minister being there on the last occasion, so he can't get out of it quite that easily. Hunting is a major part of it, it certainly has brought people together because the government has totally the wrong priority, but it's not the only thing, the countryside is suffering from ignorance of rural affairs at the heart of government, and that is what they're rebelling against.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time some great countryside organisations, like the National Trust or the Ramblers, have declined to go because they feel that the true purpose has been muddied by all this.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think they will find that large numbers of their members are there. And this - it's important to remember about this march, that it is composed of individuals. You know, it's not a group of, it's not a group of trade unions who've mandated their members all to come along. This is 300,000 - a third of a million, however it may turn out to be - individuals, who have decided that the threat to their way of life is sufficiently great and the awareness of their problems sufficiently low that they need to get up and do something about it and say to people in the heart of London, "Look, we are - you're always talking about minorities," quite rightly about the rights of minorities, they're saying, "we are a minority. What about our rights? Why are we not respected?" And that is a real cry from the heart from the countryside and it is time it was respected at the top of government.

DAVID FROST: And one other thing that does it need to be respected, that someone did a poll this week among farmers that showed that they, by a huge majority they yearned for the euro.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I say, I wonder how that question was put - I don't find many farmers in my constituency yearning for the euro. No, not at all. No and of course that would not be the solution in any case to any of their problems, it would lock them into the wrong exchange rate for forever into the future. What they yearn for is a government that says, right here is a framework for the future of farming. If it's going to be more environmentally based farming subsidies in the future, well then here are the decisions about that. They'd like to see a government action, set of government actions more concerned with supporting other rural businesses - and other businesses would like to see things like broadband communications put out to more of the countryside, so we can have different types of businesses in rural areas. Now if only we were talking about these things in parliament, it really would help the rural areas. If only we were talking about affordable housing in rural areas, instead of having to spend months in the next year debating hunting because of the prejudices of some people who live in cities about what's happened in the countryside for centuries.

DAVID FROST: Well it's surrounded with prejudice on both sides, when I think of it. What about talking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, it's Iraq. Do you so far rather approve of Mr Blair's handling of this situation with the US?

WILLIAM HAGUE: On the whole, yes. I wish we had a substantive motion to vote on in the House of Commons this Tuesday but I think it is right for the United Kingdom to stand with the United States. You know, it's very important to appreciate how different the atmosphere is in the States from the rest of the world at the moment. We all say we sympathise with September 11th, but it's like writing a letter to somebody who has had a serious bereavement, you sympathise but you don't actually feel what it is like. And in America it feels very different. They have suffered this outrage and they are determined to prevent it happening again. And they deserve support in preventing it happening again and that is why they have the policy they do towards Iraq.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of who - we were touching on with Charles Kennedy earlier - if it came to a situation where the US and the UK had to go it alone, without specific blessing from the UN, should we do it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: It depends on the circumstances but if there is no change in the behaviour of the Iraqi regime, then yes we should. But of course the responsibility is on the UN to try to deal with this first. President Bush very clearly put that responsibility towards the United Nations and now other countries have got to live up to that. But we cannot sit back and say "Well we're not doing anything about this. If we can't get a majority vote in the UN, if we can't get a resolution then we're not going to do anything about this." I think we've learned now that nations that can take action should and need to take action in certain situations.

DAVID FROST: And have you been disappointed at the level of European support?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes ... European countries vary, of course. The French have shifted their policy a little over the months, disappointing in Germany that it has become a, a method of getting votes in the German elections, to create a rupture in support for the United States. Now I think that is very disappointing and it does show that all this talk of a European foreign policy, absolutely united in the future, is so much hogwash, really. That is not going to take place if they cannot agree on an issue of such fundamental importance. But that's not the main issue here, European solidarity. It is what the world ... what the United Nations decides to do and then what can happen in the light of that.

DAVID FROST: And if you were IDS on his recent first anniversary, as it were, how would you see the progress, or lack of it, in the last year?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think he's done a very good job. I think he's doing a very good job. It's a difficult job, as I well know, and you get lots of critics, particularly a year into it. But he's basically saying we can only communicate one thing about a party at one time, and we're going to communicate it, and that means putting other things aside for the moment. And I think that has been the right decision - to show that the Conservative Party is concerned and has policies for public services, where Labour's greatest failings are now developing. I think that is the right thing to do. So we must persist in it and not be put off by any critics.

DAVID FROST: And so, so he's right at the moment not to push with Europe, because you can only get one message across at a time - so he's right on that is he?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes I think that's right, I think you can only get one message across at a time. I think that's one thing we learnt in the last parliament and I think the opportunity for the Conservative Party is much bigger in this parliament because the failings of the government on things like the transport system, the education system you've been talking about this morning, are much clearer than they were in the last parliament. When a party loses its strongest card, it's in big trouble - as we were ten years ago, Black Wednesday and all of that. Now the Labour Party is going to lose its strongest card in the next few years - that it was the party that could manage the public services. And Iain is positioning the Conservative Party to take advantage of that and to be the alternative to Labour when that happens. That must be the right thing to do.

DAVID FROST: In terms of inclusiveness and the things that particularly in your first year you stressed and then later on you went to a more, a position favouring the traditional constituency and so on, but what should, what should IDS do about Section 28, for instance? Should he change the policy from your policy or keep to your policy?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Whatever he decides to do on that I will support him. It is a thankless task deciding on it, it's a totem, it's not actually, it's not the greatest issue of substance, and it's a totem for both sides of the argument and I think the job of former leaders on things like that is to say to the leader good luck with that, when you've sorted it out we'll support you.

DAVID FROST: Right.

WILLIAM HAGUE: And with no back-biting, no criticising from the armchair, so I'm not even going to give him advice about those things - certainly not in television studios - because whatever policy he chooses I will be right behind him because I want him to be in government next to me.

DAVID FROST: But have you changed your view on it or not?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No. No, I mean you know where my instincts are on these things. But, you know, but this is not the crucial issue for the Conservative Party and it's a shame that a lot of time is spent on it. Iain is trying to spend the time on the health service, education, transport - those are the things that Conservative policies will be produced on in the coming months and I think that's very welcome. So I think we should cheer him on in that. You know, I believe in rallying behind the leader but then I've been the leader and I know how important that is.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the - the thing that everyone points out - you mentioned ERM, in the ten years since then, apart from that memorable two or three weeks at the time of the fuel crisis and so on, it's been ... though for the Conservatives, all through that period. Really, though, as people say, governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them. Really, all the Conservative Party can do is, presumably, is wait to see if the government make a huge mistake. There's nothing else, they're powerless other than that.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think that we have to do much more than that - I mean we are doing much more than that, and building up our credibility in areas where we have lost it. So it's not just a case of waiting for the pendulum to shift - I mean you could do that but you may wait for ever. But of course it's very - even in polls, now it's a very different story. When I took over, five years ago in the party, the Labour Party had 60 per cent support, in the early days of Tony Blair's government, now they have 40 per cent support. Now it's still a big number but it's a very different, it's a smaller mountain to climb - it's still a mountain but it's a much smaller mountain to climb than it was five years ago.

DAVID FROST: And talking of the pendulum do you remember Jimmy Young, on one memorable occasion, said "the pendulum has come full circle." Interesting words. Here's Moira.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Moira, that's all we've got time for. Thank you very much indeed William.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you, a pleasure.

DAVID FROST: Have you got your green wellies?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I've got my walking shoes on - not the wellies but the shoes.

DAVID FROST: Very good. Thanks very much.

INTERVIEW ENDS

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