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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK

UK Politics

Hague aide apologises over interview

Alan Duncan: Made damaging remarks about his party

One of William Hague's closest aides has issued a public apology for remarks he made criticising the conservative leader.

Mr Hague has issued a severe reprimand to Alan Duncan over the recent interview.

The shadow health spokesman received a dressing down over the phone after he condemned Mr Hague's "confusion of tactics, strategy and belief".

In a statement, issued by the conservative party, Mr Duncan said: "As everyone knows I'm 100% supportive of William Hague.

"The last thing I would ever want to do is to detract from yesterday's success in which William's efforts and those of thousands of candidates produced such a splendid result.

"I'm sorry if what I said did so in any way and I regret the way in which my words have been misinterpreted."

Mr Duncan's earlier comments, which caused the row, were published in a New Statesman interview and referred to the Tory leader's recent attempt to remodel the party.

[ image: William Hague decided to get tough]
William Hague decided to get tough
But they had threatened to overshadow the Conservative's local election gains.

In a 10-minute phone call on Friday, Mr Hague told his front bench spokesman that "self-indulgent statements by senior members of the party will not be tolerated", a party spokesman said.

The leader chose to regard the comments as "careless" rather than deliberately aimed at undermining the leadership, otherwise a "more severe penalty" would have been imposed, the spokesman added.

William Hague on BBC Radio 4's Today: "I will be sorting him out"
Earlier, Mr Hague had told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he would "sort out" Mr Duncan.

"I thought some of his remarks were a little confusing and I will be sorting him out later today," he had said.

In the magazine interview, Mr Duncan spoke of the "confusion of tactics, strategy and belief" in the Tory's recent policy relaunch.

He said Mr Hague should "go back to the drawing board and no longer just scrabble around in the hope of winning short term engagements and battles".

[ image: Peter Lilley: His remarks are thought to have angered Mr Duncan]
Peter Lilley: His remarks are thought to have angered Mr Duncan
Mr Duncan's assertions were all the more surprising considering he is widely seen as a close aide to the Conservative leader.

He condemned deputy leader Peter Lilley's controversial attempt to shed the party's Thatcherite past.

He called it "an experimental foray into presentation which didn't work". Mr Duncan is seen as a target of the drive to reform.

He went on: "We've yet to come to terms about how to confront a Labour Party which has moved much closer to us.

"We've got to do a lot of thinking, not in a climate of apology and contrition, but in a climate of some satisfaction that everything we said turned out to be true."

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