At the court of the Young Pretender

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The Independent Online
The setting was straight out of Jane Austen but the script owed more to Michael Dobbs. William Hague, pretender to the Conservative throne, did his best to look dashing, his bride-to-be Ffion on his arm at the 17th century Kipling Hall in North Yorkshire last night, writes Paul Routledge.

Mr Hague was attending the centenary celebrations of his Richmond Conservative association, but he could not resist another platform for his party leadership bid.

With Ffion alongside him in a blue silk dress cut above the knee and wearing a triple string of pearls, Mr Hague warned Tony Blair: "Within a few days you will begin to face the full fire of a united Conservative voice. You will not be able to hide from this voice. You will no longer be able to run away from this voice. It will be shouted loud and clear from every rooftop in the land."

It was a night for the wealthy of North Yorkshire to applaud their favourite son, with hundreds of the faithful, most of them in their Sixties, taking over Kipling Hall for the champagne bash. As he went in under the stone coat of arms, Mr Hague offered a place in his cabinet for "all the defeated candidates", adding that he was not taking victory on Tuesday for granted. He said : "We must turn into the most effective political fighting machine in western Europe - a machine that will relight the torch of enterprise, self-reliance, less government and, perhaps most important of all, a continuing belief in our nation. These are Conservative principles, these are my principles, and it is these principles that people will vote for again at the next general election."