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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 18:30 GMT

UK Politics

Hague defiant over sacking

William Hague faces criticism from old allies

The Tory leader William Hague has issued a defiant warning saying he would sack anyone in his party who behaved like Viscount Cranborne.

Political Correspondent Carole Walker: Hague fighting back
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: "Any leader worth his salt would sack somebody who did what Lord Cranborne did.

"I would do the same again. I've had the most tremendous support from across the party and I've enjoyed myself immensely."

Mr Hague sacked Lord Cranborne on Wednesday over his attempt to strike a deal on Lords reform with Downing Street, without telling the rest of the Shadow Cabinet.

The sacking has left the Conservatives in the Lords in complete disarray with the whole Tory frontbench team offering their resignation, which Mr Hague refused.

But on Thursday four peers rejected their leader's pleas and resigned while two other peers have left the Tory fold to sit as independents.

In a speech in Cardiff on Friday to the Tory team fighting next year's elections to the new Welsh Assembly, Mr Hague stoutly defended his actions over what has been one of the party's worst weeks since the election.

"It wasn't easy when I refused to accept Labour's deal on the House of Lords. Some senior colleagues of mine said I should sacrifice long-term principles for short-term convenience," he said.

"But I refused because I wanted to be true to our principles. I wanted us to be the one party that stands against the government's constitutional vandalism.

"Standing up for your beliefs isn't easy, but it's right. It's what I came into politics to fight for."

Damage to the party

Tory MP Alan Clark has voiced the concerns of many MPs that the ructions in the Lords have damaged the party.

But most worryingly of all, Mr Hague's former leadership rival Kenneth Clarke refused to endorse his leadership, despite being repeatedly asked to do so in a BBC TV interview.

[ image: Baroness Strange: Protest resignation]
Baroness Strange: Protest resignation
Most prominent among the Tory departures was Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Lord Cranborne's deputy, who was then joined by Lord Bowness, Lord Pilkington and the Earl of Home.

Hereditary peer Baroness Strange and life peer Baroness Flather then said they were was quitting the Tory whip to sit on the cross-benches in protest.

Lord Fraser said he was "disgusted" at the dismissal of Lord Cranborne and added: "I just don't understand the basis on which Robert Cranborne was sacked."

[ image: Lord Fraser:
Lord Fraser: "Disgusted"
Lord Bowness said he was "appalled" at the way Lord Cranborne had been treated after agreeing a deal which was better than anybody could have expected.

He pointed out that the Tory party was now supporting the agreement reached by Lord Cranborne which means keeping nearly 100 hereditary peers in a transitional House of Lords.

"It seems such a waste," said Lord Bowness. "I could not sit on the Tory party front bench and, by implication, support what happened."

Emma Udwin: Mr Hague believes he has shown his mettle
Baroness Flather said the sacking had been handled "brutally". She added: "It implies he has done something heinous."

As the criticism of Mr Hague continued, the government said it would introduce the bill to reform the Lords as soon as possible - capitalising on Tory chaos.

[ image: Baroness Flather: Sacking was brutal]
Baroness Flather: Sacking was brutal
It will be one of the first measures set before MPs when they return on 11 January after their Christmas break.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed on Thursday night that Tony Blair was proceeding on the assumption that the deal brokered with Viscount Cranborne was still in place.

That could mean 659 hereditary peers swept out of the Lords before the summer and a reformed, transitional upper chamber in its place for the next parliamentary session.

The Royal Commission promised by the government would then be immediately ordered into action and its conclusions could be voted through Parliament before the next election, with Mr Blair no longer facing a log-jam in a Tory-dominated Lords.

[ image: Lord Pilkington: Resigned as education spokesman]
Lord Pilkington: Resigned as education spokesman
The deputy leader of the Conservatives in the Lords confirmed his party would not now offer bitter resistance to the Labour plans to reform the second chamber.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish said: "The Conservative Party is a constitutional party or it is nothing. We do not want to smash the furniture."

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