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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK

UK Politics

The all new William Hague

William Hague is facing his leadership's toughest electoral test

After over 18 months as Tory leader the time has come for William Hague to make a change.

His spin doctors have prescribed a relaunch to take the Westminster out of William.

Rather than being seen as pre-occupied with events in the Commons, Tory sources say Mr Hague is to be relaunched as a "normal guy who gets on with people likes children and enjoys relaxing with his wife".

[ image: William Hague is seen as a strong Commons performer]
William Hague is seen as a strong Commons performer
Even party Chairman Michael Ancram has acknowledged that Mr Hague's public profile leaves something to be desired when he said his leader was not being noticed as "widely as he should be".

Another party source is being reported as saying: "We need to demonstrate that the real William Hague is not just some one-dimensional parliamentary performer." Hence the relaunch.

The idea is to connect the Tory leader, in the mind of the general public, with the bread and butter issues and aspirations of ordinary people.

[ image: Ffion Hague is set to make more appearances with her husband]
Ffion Hague is set to make more appearances with her husband
Mr Hague is to be portrayed as more of a family man, Ffion's appearances at her husband's side are to increase and the Tory leader is expected to spend more time meeting and listening to the concerns of ordinary people.

And it is no coincidence that the rebranding comes ahead of the Tory leader's toughest electoral test so far.

In May, the Tory faithful will be hoping the party will begin its fight-back to power at the local elections and the elections to the new Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

This string of elections is being followed in June by the first European elections conducted under proportional representation.

All the elections provide the Tories opportunities to rebuild the base they lost in 1997 when all their MPs in Scotland and Wales were defeated.

They should also take around a 1,000 local council seats if the green shoots of recovery are to be substantial.

The Newark by-election, caused by the disqualification of former Labour MP Fiona Jones and likely to be held in May or June, also provides the Tories with another morale boosting opportunity.

But the real question is will the re-launch make any difference to the Tories standing in the polls.

Since taking over as leader Mr Hague embarked on what seems like a rolling programme of rebranding the party.

First he unleashed the Listening to Britain campaign, a £250,000 consultation exercise designed to put the Tories back in touch with the public after losing power.

[ image: Hague has been influenced by Texas Governor Geoge W. Bush's 'caring conservatism']
Hague has been influenced by Texas Governor Geoge W. Bush's 'caring conservatism'
Since then there have been substantial reforms to the Tory party machinery and a series of speeches setting out Hague's vision which have been summed up as being the "British Way", "caring conservatism", and "kitchen table" politics.

But despite all the hard work little headway seems to have been made with the voters.

At the general election the Tories took 30.7% of the vote, a score which saw them crash to their worst general election defeat in a 150 years.

Some polls suggest they are beginning to reach this level once more for after a post-election dip.

This disappointing performance is made all the more difficult for Mr Hague as it comes as Labour enters the mid-term of their first spell in power for a generation.

Governments are often seen as most vulnerable as the parliamentary cycle enters its halfway stage but so far the Tories, despite picking up some support for their stance on genetically-modified food, are showing few signs of a serious recovery.

If the re-launch fails to impress the voters as the polls draw near Mr Hague will have his work cut out for him turning his party's fortunes around before the next election.

But a week is a long time in politics and Mr Hague may yet have another three years to prepare for the next general election.

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