Hague Wedding: Hague faces naked truth as Thatcher snubs party

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The Independent Online
William Hague will get married at the Palace of Westminster tomorrow, but many senior Conservatives, including Lady Thatcher, will be notable by their absence. Kim Sengupta looks at the politics behind the political wedding of

the year.

Lady Thatcher did not turn up for William Hague's pre-wedding reception at the Carlton Club last night. But three uninvited women did.

Strippers publicising a cable television channel ambushed the Tory leader as he arrived at the party with his fiancee, Ffion. As the grand soiree at the club in St James descended into farce, the couple were driven off while the police were called in to clear the scene.

Lady Thatcher had preferred to attend a carol service for the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund. This was not a deliberate snub, her office hurriedly insisted, the carol service date has been in her diary for a long time.

This explanation is greeted with derision by some senior Tories. They say the former Prime Minister had been upset at not being invited to the wedding at the Palace of Westminster. She had hailed Mr Hague as a future star after a conference speech by him at the age of 16, and when it came to this year's post-election leadership contest she had thrown her weight behind him against Kenneth Clarke.

However, Lady Thatcher had also expressed disapproval when at the last party conference, at Blackpool, Mr Hague shared his bedroom with his fiancee. Ms Jenkins is said to have resented the criticism, and she is also said to feel the former Prime Minister's presence would be a distraction on her and William's big day.

The couple have invited just a half-dozen of Mr Hague's parliamentary colleagues to the ceremony along with 140 family friends. Most of the six work closely with the Conservative leader and his private office. They are James Arbuthnot, the chief whip and head of Mr Hague's campaign team; Alan Duncan, his parliamentary private secretary and friend; David Liddington, his parliamentary private secretary; the MP Julie Kirkbride and her husband Andrew Mackay, the shadow Ulster spokesman; and Liam Fox, spokesman on constitutional affairs. Sebastian Coe, the former MP who is now Mr Hague's chief of staff, makes up the six.

The decision to leave out all other Commons colleagues annoyed some Tory MPs, and that mood was not helped when they were asked to chip in for a present. Backbenchers were asked to contribute pounds 10, and shadow cabinet members pounds 50 each for two gifts, each costing in excess of pounds 1,000.

They were to be chosen from wedding lists, one compiled by the Wedding Shop, in Fulham Road in south-west London. Some of the contents (silver fish knives from Christofile, pounds 276; George Jensen champagne flutes, pounds 270; Richard Ginori coffee cups, pounds 336) have come in for criticism on the grounds of both taste and greed.

One critic in the Sunday Telegraph, the Tory party house organ, asked "Don't Christo- phile, George and Richard want these items any more? ... Why do you need a fish knife if you do not work on a trawler? ... Is William Hague's life as leader so sad that he actually needs this upmarket tat? And what do you do if you are invited to the wedding and you can't afford any of the gifts?"

Having been savaged over the wedding list, Ms Jenkins is keeping details of her wedding dress a secret. She appeared at the party conference in a pounds 2,000 black lace number by Neil Cunningham. Associates of the designer said he has not been asked to try his hand again.

It has been suggested that Ms Jenkins had bought the dress from the Wedding Shop, which sells second-hand creations by designers such as Bruce Oldfield, Catherine Walker and Phillipa Lepley. However, this has been denied by the store.

Since then Phillipa Lepley's boutique, also on the Fulham Road, has emerged as the latest front runner. Her style is described by a spokeswoman from Brides magazine as "clean, elegant and classic". Most of her designs cost between pounds 2,000 and pounds 2,500.

The ceremony will take place at the 13th-century Crypt Chapel at the House of Commons crypt, which was once used by Henry VIII for stabling his horses. It will be a traditional wedding service conducted by the Speaker's chaplain, Canon Donald Gray, and a Welsh Methodist minister. The reception will be at the Speaker's House, followed by a breakfast at the members' dining room.

It had been assumed that by now the House would have risen for Christmas. But the Government decreed otherwise, and so the couple will be pledging their vows at the Crypt while the raucous business of Parliament continues above. The vows will be in English and Welsh, and Ms Jenkins is unlikely to promise to "honour and obey" in either language.