William Hague: You Ask The Questions

The Shadow Foreign Secretary answers your questions, such as 'What should we do about Iran?' and 'Why do you claim for a second home?'
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The Independent Online

Now Gordon Brown has apologised for the McBride affair, isn't it time to focus on something other than trivia? LESLEY TIMMS, Sudbury

The one way to have drawn a line under it right at the start would have been for Gordon Brown to issue a clear apology – instead it took him six days to have the word "sorry" finally dragged out of him. Of course, we will all move on to other issues, but the mere fact that the Prime Minister's right-hand strategist was himself focused on dirty tricks at a time of deep recession tells you something very revealing about this Government.

Do you really think the emails between McBride and Draper are anything more than normal political gossip? HUGH CARRICK, Portland

Actually they were more than any normal gossip, since they were part of a calculated attempt to smear the Opposition, using time and resources funded by the taxpayer, all carried on in a way which shows a corrosive and cynical culture is prevalent in Downing Street. I cannot imagine anyone in John Major's Downing Street, which I knew as a minister, behaving in that way, because it would have been so counter-cultural.

What's the most outrageous piece of gossip you've heard about yourself? AFTAB SIDDIK, Grimsby

Someone once claimed I was not really a Yorkshireman!

What's your view of the new Israeli government? Are Avigdor Lieberman's statements dismissing the two-state solution bad for hopes of peace? JAMIE POUND, London

We will have to give the new government some time to assess its own situation and listen to international advice, but it would certainly be a major step backwards if Israel turns against a two-state solution. No other framework can provide both Israelis and Palestinians with peace and security. Mr Netanyahu can be more pragmatic than he looks – he came within an ace of a peace treaty with Syria last time he was Prime Minister. Whether the same will be said of Mr Lieberman we will soon discover.

What should we do about North Korea? KAREN ELWAY, Perth

The first step is to tighten international sanctions to make it harder for North Korea to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes further. Then we have to revive the Six Party Talks, with the purpose of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme and end its international isolation. As ever, China has a key role to play.

Pirates off the coast of Somalia are causing huge problems now. Isn't it time for decisive international action? HONOR JAMES, Cardiff

The Royal Navy is already working alongside a dozen other countries to try to thwart these attacks. We may well need a stronger and better co-ordinated military response, but we also have to recognise that piracy has its roots in the lawlessness that plague Somalia. If we get any chance to help the Somalis build a more stable state, then we and the international community must take it.

Won't your party's planned new grouping in the European Parliament leave you isolated with a bunch of extremists? IAN FAGAN, Durham

There is no question of isolation: we have good links with the Sarkozy and Merkel governments, for instance, and in Strasbourg last month I agreed with the EPP leadership – the group to which we are attached now – that the separation from them would be amicable and that there would be a good deal of co-operation between us in the future. The new group will be founded by us and the Czech Civic Democrats, who are certainly not extremists, along with other mainstream parties, and will be a centre-right non-federalist grouping. It will thus represent the views of huge numbers of people across Europe who have no such grouping now, and that has got to be good for diversity of opinion and democracy in the EU.

Should we stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon at all costs? PHILIP MATTERSON, London

We should not rule out military action, if that is what you mean, but we should understand its very grave consequences and place our whole emphasis on a diplomatic and peaceful solution. The Obama administration has been absolutely right to begin with a fresh approach to Iran – I have long called for tougher European sanctions on Iran to buttress a diplomatic effort from America. Now we need to see a positive response from Iran's leaders, rather than a stalling for time which allows them to develop a nuclear weapons capability anyway.

What would you do on your first day as foreign secretary? CLAUDIA GHALY, Manchester

Set in motion the creation of a true National Security Council at ministerial level to bring to foreign, defence and security issues the co-ordination and joint use of expertise which seems to have been lacking in recent years.

Have you met Hillary Clinton? What do you make of her? KIM NOONAN, Chester

Yes, and I have a lot of time and respect for her, because I found her genuinely interested in receiving ideas from other nations. I think the new US administration has had an excellent start in foreign-policy terms, and that must be a good reflection on the new Secretary of State.

Do you think you would have been a successful Prime Minister in 2001? Wouldn't you be better suited to the job now? SIMON POPHAM, Poole

We will never know! Sorry if that is dodging your question a bit, but the desire to be Prime Minister drained out of me some years ago and I have no intention of ever letting it return. I actually feel more comfortable in the role I have now. Ambition is best tempered with self-knowledge!

Why should someone like you, who earns hundreds of thousands a year, get £62,000 of our money to help you pay for a second home? FRANK MURPHY, Redbridge

These allowances clearly need urgent reform to reduce the cost and give the public some confidence in them. On my own situation, I don't disagree with you, which is why I paid off the mortgage on my second home last year to reduce greatly my use of the MPs' allowances.

What advice would you given to someone who, like you, has burning political ambitions as a teenager? RUPERT POPE (15) Canterbury

Go for it, but always remember to develop skills and interests in other areas so that you are never too dependent on politics to the exclusion of all else. And while you are doing that, read history, so that you can see yourself and the issues you are dealing with in perspective.

As a historian, who do you think was Britain's best Prime Minister? ANN FARR, Manchester

I know it is a predictable answer, but there is good reason for that: for his combined powers of decision-making, inspirational leadership, and ability to rise to the most extreme circumstances of modern times, I think Winston Churchill.

What majority would you predict for the Conservatives at the next election? DOMINIC CAVE, Ipswich

I have been around too long to fall for giving a straight answer to this question! We take nothing and no-one for granted! And the truth in any case is that, given the boundary changes and the great variation in constituency results around a national swing that has developed in the last 20 years, even the most seasoned expert could only make a wild guess.

Ever considered a wig? NEIL KEENAN, Dover

No – it would be a bit obvious and there isn't enough to attach it to.

Does it surprise you to have gone from a figure of public ridicule to everyone's favourite Conservative (except Boris)? JULIA LIPMAN, Paris

Well, I suppose I have changed in some ways, so perhaps that helps. I have found that I get a better reaction from people once I am less bothered about their reaction. By the way, that only works if you really mean it!

Do any of your friends support Labour? Who's your favourite Labour MP? HARRY DEAN, Northampton

Yes, although most of them are wavering a bit at the moment! I was brought up in the South Yorkshire coalfield so I have never been short of friends who vote the other way. At the moment my favourite Labour MP is Chris Mullin, partly because I have just enormously enjoyed his book A View From the Foothills and partly because he can be good company on the long train ride to our constituencies.

Do you still enjoy judo? When was your last bout with Sebastian Coe? SUSAN RENNIE, Hailsham

I am too busy in the evenings to go to my judo club, and my private bouts with Seb fell victim to the Olympic Games. So I haven't hurled Seb on to the mat for a few years now, which is probably why he is looking so well.