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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
'Baldy' Hague may cost votes, says Tory
William Hague
Press blamed for looking down on Mr Hague's image
He may have been subjected to a series of image revamps but Conservative leader William Hague's bald head and "funny" voice may cost him votes, according to one of his colleagues.

Tim Loughton, a Tory spokesman on the Environment, Transport and the Regions, says Mr Hague's shiny pate and gruff Yorkshire accent are picked on by "London-based luvvies" in the press, making him unpopular with southerners.

They [northerners] don't treat him with this very unfair, rather snide cynicism that the press do, based in London

Tim Loughton
Mr Loughton said there was even a comparison with Neil Kinnock, who lost two general elections as Labour leader and was mocked for his Welsh roots.

But he told politics website his leader's personal traits were a positive asset in the north and could be "overcome" in the south.

"The media has a problem with him and unfortunately the media has communicated the problem it has with him to many people out there in the country - and that's grossly unfair," Mr Loughton said.

Asked to explain the root of the problem, he went on: "I think it's as petty as the fact that he's a baldy and he has a funny accent.

"And for many people who write the political editorial columns, who are London-based luvvies, that's easy to poke fun at."

Neil Kinnock
Neil Kinnock has said his Welsh roots hampered his career
Mr Loughton said Mr Hague, who is MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, was "a very obvious asset" which would help the Tories win back many seats in the north of England.

Northerners avoided treating him with the "very unfair, rather snide cynicism" the press did, he added.

"I think we'll overcome that in the southern seats as well and I hope many people will be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and judge him on what he stands for and what he believes in."

Yorkshireman Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary, said Mr Loughton's remarks were "silly".

"There are a hell of a lot of funny voices around and a hell of a lot of bald-headed people and there are even more in the government who talk total codswallop, as opposed to William Hague.

Tim Loughton
Tim Loughton: Called Mr Hague 'one of our biggest assets'
"These are just silly remarks. I do despair of the Conservatives. They don't need to say anything with the government making an absolute mess of foot-and-mouth disease."

The most high profile attempt to improve Mr Hague's public image was his claim to a men's magazine that as a teenager he drank up to 14 pints a day.

Earlier attempts included "Project Hague" - revealed in a leaked memo - proposing photo opportunities designed to depict the Tory leader as a man firmly grounded in his Yorkshire roots, with close ties to his family and a liking for judo and abseiling.

Then there was last year's 'William - The Movie', an eve of conference Channel 4 documentary which asked him if it was love at first sight for wife Ffion.

Other image-making efforts have included a close cropped haircut, a baseball cap, an appearance at the Notting Hill Carnival and well-publicised judo bouts with his chief of staff, Lord Coe.

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See also:

27 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Leaders love to be interesting
02 Oct 00 | Conservatives
William, the movie
08 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hague: I drank 14 pints a day
17 Feb 00 | UK Politics
New faces for Tory frontbench
13 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Cover blown on 'Project Hague'
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