Hague seeks clear mandate for Tory party shake-up

William Hague, his sights on victory in the Tory leadership ballot, yesterday outlined his plans for party reform, and sharing a bedroom with his fiancee at the party conference.
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William Hague said yesterday that he needed "a lot more than a narrow victory" to secure a mandate for his leadership and reform of the Conservative Party.

His remarks on BBC radio show confidence that he will win a majority, but could leave him open to attack if it is less than a convincing result after coming under withering fire from all sides.

Mr Hague is facing a rebellion by grassroots members who are demanding a say in leadership elections, and criticism from Tory grandees including Alan Clark, who fear he is taking too much power away from MPs.

Mr Hague brushed aside objections raised by Baroness Thatcher and the Tory old guard who have raised eyebrows about his sharing a bedroom with his fiancee, Ffion Jenkins, at the party conference in Blackpool, before they are married. Pressed to say whether it was a double bed, Mr Hague invited the Radio Five Live interviewer, Sybil Roskoe, into his bedroom. "Come and have a look if you like," he said. When it was suggested that that his offer would be taken up by newspapers, he said: "It was a personal invitation."

The Tory leader has encountered almost daily attacks on his tour of the country to build up support for his leadership and planned reforms to the party. Yesterday he sampled a curry in Birmingham before telling local Asian businessmen about his reforms. Today, he will be in Salisbury.

But it emerged yesterday he could have spent the time enjoying a drink and a doze in the sunshine with John Major and the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, at the home of ex-Tory MP Tristan Garel-Jones in Spain.

He was invited to join the former prime minister on a holiday in Spain but turned him down because he was too busy campaigning for a "yes" vote in the membership ballot.

There were suspicions at Westminster, as reported in The Independent on Saturday, that the trio of old pals may have been plotting Mr Hague's downfall in the olive groves of Candeleda, a village west of the Spanish capital, Madrid.

Friends of Mr Major, who say the new Tory leader and his predecessor are "quite close", say Mr Hague was invited to join in the holiday fun, but turned the offer down.

The former prime minister is "fully behind" Mr Hague, they say, and reject the idea of any secret plot to undermine the Tory leader. "He regards the idea that this is some sort of cabal as daft. This is a long planned holiday which Mr Hague was invited to join, but couldn't because he had his huge regional tour," a source said. The Independent reported yesterday that Mr Major will give his backing to Mr Hague minutes before the results of the ballot are released.

Lady Thatcher will also lend her support later in the week, when Mr Major has left for a speaking engagement in America.

Mr Hague's shadow cabinet colleagues were stung into activity yesterday, issuing more press releases than they have all summer, after being accused in the media of being a bunch of unknowns.