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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 09:01 GMT
First 100 Days: William Hague

For many people, the enduring image - unfairly or not - of William Hague's first 100 days as Conservative leader is that of him wearing a baseball cap on a visit to a theme park.

WILLIAM HAGUE
William Hague
Elected leader: June 1997
Age when elected: 36
Defeated rivals: Ken Clarke, John Redwood, Peter Lilley, Michael Howard

The publicity stunt was an attempt to project a more youthful image for the party but it saw him mercilessly pilloried in the press. Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail said the new Conservative leader "looked like a child-molester on a day release scheme".

The incident did not mark the end of Mr Hague's honeymoon period as party leader, however, because there had never been much of a honeymoon period to end.

The straight-talking Yorkshireman had been plagued from the start by in-fighting over Europe and sniping from the party old guard.

At 36, he was the youngest Conservative leader since Pitt.

A Eurosceptic, known for witty and confident performances at the dispatch box, he had beaten the pro-European Kenneth Clarke to the leadership by 22 votes.

Ulitimatum

But he took over a demoralised and divided party - and his attempts to modernise it were met with barely-disguised derision from some senior party figures.

Hague needs to re-establish his authority and end the sniping
The Sunday Times

By the 100 day mark, he had been forced to hold a ballot of the whole party on his proposals, including a one member, one vote system for future leadership elections, a new disciplinary and ethics committee and a ban on foreign donations.

This unprecedented move was portrayed by the press as a desparate "back me or sack me" ultimatum to the party.

Mr Hague would go on to win the vote convincingly but critics wrote it off as a publicity stunt.

Little wonder there were few signs of a celebration at Conservative central office to mark his first 100 days in the job.

"This weekend, senior Tories were wondering aloud whether the parliamentary party made a mistake in July by choosing a 36-year-old with only two years down-table cabinet experience as the least worst option to be their new leader," the Sunday Times reported.

'Unglamorous'

Mr Hague's critics in the press had seized on a gaffe by accusing the prime minister of "shabby" behaviour over making capital out of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

But it was only the latest in a long list of supposed public relations disasters, including the baseball cap incident and an appearance at the Notting Hill carnival.

"Hague needs to re-establish his authority and end the sniping which proved so debilitating to [John] Major," the Sunday Times concluded.

"The Tories have a long, hard unglamorous slog ahead. They will only make it harder if they think there are short cuts. And while Mr Hague sets about this, he has to force his party to stop whingeing and start fighting."

What happened next: William Hague led the Conservatives into the 2001 General Election but never looked like he had a realistic chance of victory. In the end the campaign was based on a "save the pound" platform. The party won just one extra seat and Mr Hague resigned immediately as leader. He spent the next four years as a backbench Tory MP, during which time his reputation and image were rebuilt as he made applauded appearances on TV chatshows and wrote a regular newspaper column. He ended his self-imposed exile from frontline politics as shadow foreign secretary in David Cameron's new team.



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