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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 February 2007, 11:38 GMT
Tory prospects
On Sunday 11 February 2007, Andrew Marr interviewed William Hague MP

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

William Hague MP

ANDREW MARR: Well that was pretty much a fairly straightforward ... admission.

Do you think that David Cameron should have been more straightforward right at the beginning and said "Yes this did happen" and move on when he was standing as candidate for the leadership?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No look I think it's always been very clear that your life before you went into politics is a private life. And it should be possible to have that as a private life.

And he's always been absolutely consistent about that.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think dope smoking matters very much? I mean you famously had ninety seven pints of cooking lager or whatever it was at one sitting and presumably ..

WILLIAM HAGUE: A slight exaggeration.

ANDREW MARR: ... weren't entirely um compos mentis after that, I mean compared with you know drinking and smoking cigarettes does dope smoking, is it still in a different category do you think?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think it's one of David - we were just talking about we all did things that we, we regret. And it's, it's one of those things I suppose. But the real issue is the prevalence of drugs in today's society, at a time actually when cannabis is a lot stronger than it was some years ago.

The real issue is what are we going to do to help people with drug rehabilitation, to get people in schools with, with experience of drug addiction who can really put it in a hard-hitting way to children about the consequences of drug addiction. And that's what really matters for the future governments of the country and not which politician took some cannabis a quarter of a century ago.

ANDREW MARR: But does it matter to you if somebody out there, seventeen or eighteen or nineteen or whatever, lights up a spliff now?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh yes, of course it mat... I think the whole issue of drugs is a very difficult one and one of the most dangerous things going on in our society, in terms of social break down, in terms of addiction and so on. So yes that matters enormously. But it's s..., it matters as a problem across the whole of society. And I don't think we solve it or enlighten people about it by drilling into the lives of every public figure in the past. To me, David Cameron, it makes no difference at all. He is, I can tell you. I work with him every day.

He, of all of us, and there have been quite a few of us who've led the Tory Party in the last ten years, he is the best. He is an all round effective politician. He's the best positioned to take the Conservative Party into government. I'm enormously impressed with him. And this makes no difference to my view of him or I think the view of most people in the country.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Well let's, let's move on to your current role as Shadow Foreign Secretary. You made an interesting speech a few days ago in which you said in effect that Britain needed a slightly different relationship with the United States and the Whitehouse, implying I suppose that Tony Blair was too close to George Bush or wasn't getting anything back in terms of what he'd given.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Actually what I was saying is we need to recover the great strength of that relationship. You know imagine Churchill and Roosevelt or Thatcher and Regan, great transatlantic partners. But with a robust relationship. They often had enormous rows. Nobody doubted that the British prime minister was making sure that Britain got its leverage and that British views were expressed.

My criticism of the, the relationship that Tony Blair has sometimes had with the United States is that the end result is that we've never seemed so uncritically aligned with the United States. And yet we seem, often to have very little influence over it. And that is not a good combination. We've got to recover the art of managing that relationship.

ANDREW MARR: And you think that in office you would be ready to have serious rows and arguments with the United States in a way that hasn't happened over the last ten years?

WILLIAM HAGUE: A year ago, when I first went to Washington as Shadow Foreign Secretary, I made a speech criticising Guantanamo Bay and other aspects of American policy and sounded a warning that America was losing its moral authority in the world, that we are great allies of America, but it needs its moral authority as a great but compassionate power. Now Americans didn't take exception to that.

They didn't say in the State Department oh we're not going to talk to you if you think that. Actually some of them said you should make more speeches of that kind because we need to hear that from our allies. Now why couldn't our government have said that before. Why did it take the Opposition to be the first to go to Washington and say that. And so I think we are allowed to make those points in the context of a strong alliance.

ANDREW MARR: If you knew then what you know now, would you still have voted for the war in Iraq?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes. I think if we hadn't had the invasion of Iraq we'd have a different Iraq crisis now in which Saddam Hussein would be trying to get out of his box and we'd all still be enormously worried about him.

ANDREW MARR: In terms of loss of life it's hard to imagine one that's worse than it is now.

WILLIAM HAGUE: It, it didn't have to however be this way. I don't think that if the huge, think, I think that if the huge mistakes had not been made after the invasion of Iraq, that the situation there now would be much better than it is. If enough troops had been sent, if the borders had been sealed, if the Iraqi army hadn't been disbanded. It didn't have to be this way.

ANDREW MARR: In a sense it was a failure of the conversation. There wasn't enough input from the diplomats and the Foreign Office and the British point of view, the European point of view, cruc..., in those crucial months before the invasion?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think that's true. I think in Washington the State Department was sidelined and many of the people who understood the Middle East were sidelined. It's a pity again that a British perspective on the Middle East was not more forcefully in there in the making of American policy, and in saying "Have we got enough troops going into here?" And so, and that is why now what, whether we were for or against - and I was for the invasion of Iraq - we do need a full enquiry of the kind of the Franks Committee into the Falklands War.

ANDREW MARR: Do we really need another, do we not all know what happened? Do we need another great, grand enquiry?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think, we, we don't know what happened. We don't know what the advice was given to ministers and given to, by ministers to the US Administration. And we've got to learn for the future. Because we have to increase our influence in the Middle East. We have to in my view elevate our relationship with many of the Muslim nations of the Middle East and therefore we have to understand what's going on there.

ANDREW MARR: See Tony Blair last week, when he was talking to MPs - I'm sure he was referring to your speech - said the problem with this view is if we don't work very, very closely with the Americans, as I've been doing, for all the problems that brings me domestically, and at the same time we're not really at the heart of Europe, then we don't exert proper influence in the world. And in effect he was saying the Conservatives, by pulling back from both relationships are going to weaken this country.

WILLIAM HAGUE: But then he was misinterpreting, perhaps wilfully misinterpreting my speech. Because I'm not saying don't work closely with the Americans. I am as much of an Atlanticist as anybody, including Tony Blair. The way this country works on intelligence and so on with Americans, that is crucial to this country.

But I'm saying let's manage that relationship properly. Let's make sure it's a robust relationship. And the Americans don't expect anything other than that.

ANDREW MARR: You famously made a lot of Europe as an issue when you were Party Leader. With this new constitution beginning to bubble back up again, is Europe coming back as an issue?

WILLIAM HAGUE: It may do. The constitution is certainly an issue. It would be a great mistake for the European Union to, to bang its head against this brick wall of trying to adopt a constitution. And the French and the Dutch have already voted against it.

Really what Europe needs is urgent economic reform, really to make a single market, to open itself up to the rest of the world, to ensure its policies are tackling the environment, global poverty and so on.

And David Cameron and I and the Czech prime minister Mr TopolÓnek will be launching a conference in Brussels in a few weeks time to try and bring other people in Europe to that agenda and challenge this idea that the political centralisation of Europe is the way forward. It's not the way forward in the twenty first century.

ANDREW MARR: See quite a lot of people who were enthusiastic about what you were saying back then seem to be moving off to UKIP at the moment which has re-branded itself the Independence Party. Would you, would you regard them as, as fruitcakes, nutters and closet racists I think was the phrase?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well some of their leaders are easily put into that er category. I don't think people are drifting off to er UKIP and they'd make a great mistake in a General Election to do that from the Conservatives because they would just ensure the election of a Labour government committed to the centralisation of Europe.

ANDREW MARR: But they would say you know Hague, you're not really along there with a huggy, hoodie huggers and the soft new centralist Conservatives. Give us, give us some raw meat.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh I can tell you I'm as great an advocate of recapturing the centre ground in politics as anybody in the Shadow Cabinet. But don't get this wrong, we do have tough policies on Europe. We are against joining the Euro. We are against the European Constitution. We want our social and employment rights to make our own laws brought back to this country. We have a tough policy on Europe all right.

But if people mean when they criticise us on this we should be going on about them every day, these policies, to the exclusion of the Health Service and climate change and schools then I say no to that. And if they say we should be saying get out of Europe all together then at a time when we've just welcomed the countries of Eastern Europe into the European Union I say no. So we're not going to change, we're not going to tack to UKIP on those, on, in any way, and certainly not on those grounds.

ANDREW MARR: But do you think you need to do more to reassure, if not win over your traditional support?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No. I think our priority is to recapture that centre ground. The Conservative Party has to win over the person who's not very political, that is worried about the state of the Health Service under this government. The person who has been looking for a political leader, who will really tackle climate change with other countries and change the opinion and the atmosphere in this country. And they've got that in David Cameron and that's what our emphasis has got to be.

ANDREW MARR: But what about the traditional Conservative voter who's saying I'm worried about tax and I'm not hearing much about that from the Conservatives. I'm worried about immigration. I'm worried. I want us to get out of Europe. And I'm just not hearing those old tunes from the Conservatives. You have to worry about these people a bit don't you?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well actually they have a party that says it will share the proceeds of economic growth between tax and spending which Gordon Brown has often failed to do. They have a party that has said that in immigration we want to, we want to bring the people in who really have the skills that we need in this country.

But we are prepared to limit the numbers. They've got a party with the Conservative Party that says we will not agree to the European Constitution. So they've got that in the Conservative Party anyway. But the Conservative Party has to fight on a broad front and be ready to tackle some of these major social issues. David will be off to Sweden tomorrow to ..


WILLIAM HAGUE: .. look at family policy and childcare. And the Conservative Party has got to be talking about ...

ANDREW MARR: In those areas too.

WILLIAM HAGUE: .. and have solutions to those things. Not just ..


WILLIAM HAGUE: .. to immigration and tax.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. Vladimir Putin has been putting the boot in a bit recently. Again, he's talking about a uni-polar world, the danger of American hegemony. Do you think that President Putin is becoming a menace?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh no. I don't think he's a menace.

I don't agree with what he said yesterday. I don't, I wouldn't describe him as a menace to the world. I don't think he is being as helpful as he could, let me put it in that more diplomatic language than a menace.

Not being as helpful as he could to international efforts to maintain order in the world. Take Iran at the moment. The Russians have just sold a billion dollars worth of tactical missiles to Iran.


WILLIAM HAGUE: That doesn't send the right signal ..

ANDREW MARR: Certainly does not.

WILLIAM HAGUE: .. to a country that we want to desist from a nuclear weapons programme. So Mr Putin could be more helpful ..

ANDREW MARR: All right.

WILLIAM HAGUE: .. to the efforts of the international community.

ANDREW MARR: All right. A diplomatic William Hague. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.


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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