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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 07:53 GMT
Hague not taken seriously - Tory MP
William Hague and Michael Portillo
There was infighting between Hague and Portillo's supporters
William Hague was never taken seriously and his team became like rabbits caught in a car's headlights, according to a former Conservative minister.

Tory MP Nicholas Soames makes the comments in new documentary The Tories: The Curse of the Mummy, to be screened on BBC Two at 1900 GMT on Saturday.


The whole Hague thing was never taken seriously

Nicholas Soames
The film uncovers in detail the in-fighting in the Conservative Party during the Hague years, especially between the rival camps of the then Tory leader and Michael Portillo.

Mr Soames says Mr Hague got off to a wrong start: "That's the problem with the Hague fresh start, the whole Hague thing was never taken seriously."

The MP identifies the handling of a keynote speech by then deputy party leader Peter Lilley as a key example of what went wrong.

'Cock-up'

Mr Lilley admits the 1998 speech, which saw him trying to bury the Thatcherite legacy at the same time that Mr Hague was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Mrs Thatcher's first election victory, as a "cock-up".

Mr Soames argues: "What followed was a classic example of this not being a serious operation...

"Peter Lilley stepped down ... because he'd made a thoughtful, sensible speech which broke new ground.

"But by that stage William and his people were caught like rabbits in the headlights of a car and the whole thing went tits up."

The documentary also records the horror felt by senior Conservative figures when Mr Hague famously appeared at a theme park wearing a baseball cap.

'Going spare'

The then Tory chairman, Lord Parkinson, says: "I went absolutely spare. They just seemed to me to be so juvenile."

The intervention of Lady Thatcher in the election campaign later horrified senior MPs.

Shadow culture secretary Tim Yeo recalls: "We were using her like a dose of political Viagra to try and excite some of our ageing supporters."

Amanda Platell
Platell denies briefing against Maude
The skirmishes between Hague spin doctor Amanda Platell and Michael Portillo's supporters are also detailed, with former shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude accusing her of briefing against him - a charge denied by Ms Platell.

Mr Maude says he "stamped his foot" but the programme goes further, telling how he and Mr Portillo confronted Mr Hague over dinner and threatened to resign if Ms Platell was not fired.

The Conservative leader said if that happened, he too would resign, triggering a crisis, and Ms Platell kept her job.

In-fighting

Former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe also renews her criticism of "backbiting" by supporters of Mr Portillo, but the effect of Ms Platell's influence is attacked by former party chairman and now European Commissioner, Chris Patten.

Michael Ancram
Ancram: Optimistic over Tory prospects
Mr Patten tells the programme: "I'm sure Amanda Platell is tremendous at public relations, but nobody would regard her as one of the great intellectual driving forces of modern politics.

"Everything, it seems to me, was conducted at the sort of Platell level."

Mr Patten says it was "bananas" for the party to concentrate on election issues that appealed to its core vote.

Loyalty warning

In a warning to Iain Duncan Smith, he says it would be "extraordinarily rich" for the new leader to expect loyalty because he was one of the Maastricht rebels who "plotted" against John Major's Europe policy.

"It's a bit tricky for people like that to give emotive lectures on the subject of party loyalty," says Mr Patten.

But shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram says he is optimistic about Tory prospects, arguing the new team has the "spark" needed to engage the public.

He argues the Hague years changed the mood of a "shell-shocked" party.

See also:

05 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Norman's hopes for Tory change
01 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Tories hit back at 'nutters' jibe
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Hague wins Tory cheers
27 Aug 01 | UK Politics
'Nastiest ever' Tory leadership battle
21 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Thatcher sparks Tory feuding
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