William Hague: You Ask The Questions

If you had your time again as leader of the Conservative Party, what would you do differently? And when can we expect your first novel?

William Hague, born in Yorkshire in 1961, began his political career at the age of 16 when he spoke at the Conservative Party conference in 1977. After attending Oxford, he was elected to Parliament in 1989 and later entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Wales. He served as Leader of the Opposition from 1997 to 2001, at which point he returned to the back benches. His biography on William Pitt the Younger is out this month.

What advice would you give to an aspiring politician?
Mark Craven, Surrey

Unless you've got enormous stamina and single-mindedness - don't do it. You have to be wholly devoted to it and absolutely fascinated by the political process. Otherwise, it would seem extremely frustrating and difficult. We do need people to go into politics, but those who are not absolutely sure should not consider it.

If you had your time again as the Conservative leader, would you do anything different?
Colin McCarthy, by e-mail

Yes: in particular, I would settle on the arguments and speech that I was most comfortable with and just make them over and over again. I think I've learnt now that you have to be endlessly repetitive to get a message through in politics. I think Tony Blair knows that. I would experiment less with nuances and approaches and settle on what was comfortable and stick to it.

Is Tony Blair a Tory in disguise?
Elizabeth Montgomery, London

Well, he wants you to think he is - but he's not. He loves the ambiguity of politics. He wants to be the person who can appeal to anyone, so I think he likes that he's Labour leader and everyone calls him a Tory. Just like he is a member of the Anglican church but goes to Catholic services. He thinks he can appeal to everyone that way.

During a documentary, you insisted that your bedroom was absolutely off limits. What secrets are you hiding?
Hugh Johnson, by e-mail

I have no secrets, but I think there has to be a limit to how far the media can probe into your house. There has got to be some difference, however small, between being a politician and being on Big Brother.

You once boasted that you drank 14 pints in a day. Do you have any other impressive records?
Sheila Merchants, by e-mail

I signed 800 books in one hour last week.

You invited several former enemies (Tony Banks, David Yelland, Amanda Platell etc) to the party for your book launch. Why?
Timothy Peterson, Brighton

I don't bear grudges, and actually I wouldn't regard most of these people as former enemies at all. I always had a lot of private dinners with David Yelland and we had a good relationship even when The Sun was backing Labour. Amanda Platell did years of very good work for me, though we differed over one thing. So I don't think of them as enemies, but even if I did they would still have been welcome at my party.

Do you agree with the parallels drawn between yourself and William Pitt the Younger?
Emily Yeates, Hertfordshire

Yes, but he was fantastically more successful than I am. He was prime minister when he was 24, he was a speech-making prodigy - these are obvious parallels. Now, my life has separated from his largely because of getting married and losing ministerial office. I think those two things have made my life go in a completely different direction.

Has Iain Duncan Smith's disastrous foray into fiction put you off writing in that genre?
Dean Carroll, Edinburgh

I wouldn't, anyway. I can't see myself writing fiction. I think that's a different sort of person. The satisfaction I'm getting from this book - lecturing, hearing people's reactions - is in letting them realise that what they thought was a boring bit of history is actually exciting. I find telling a true story and having that effect gives me my buzz.

What is the last book you read?
Sam Goldstein, London

It was a book about genetics. Nature Via Nurture by Matt Ridley.

What does the next decade hold for the Conservative Party?
Rachel Devonshire, London

I wouldn't assume Labour will win a third term. I think there is too much complacency in the Labour Party about this. This next election will be very fluid and open. Labour has lost so much support since the last election that it is certainly possible for the Tory party to win in this decade. Indeed, it is possible for them to win in the very near future.

Michael Howard has reinstated John Redwood, whom you sacked years ago. Is your party regressing?
Gary Lin, by e-mail

No. People do come back after a few years on the back benches. Michael Heseltine did. It's not an uncommon thing, and he's a very energetic and purposeful person.

Why did you tell anti-Irish jokes at a dinner for businessmen?
Rodney Wavel, by e-mail

Well, I tell good-natured jokes about everybody, but I'm mainly sticking to Yorkshire jokes now. I've pretty much dropped Irish jokes, given that one or two people seem to be sensitive about them. My objective was to entertain rather than upset anybody. I used to have some about Scots and others, but I'm sticking to Yorkshiremen now.

Do you believe in gay marriage?
Peter Colwin, Cardiff

No, not marriage as such, but I do believe in gay people being able to form a partnership with legal standing. Marriage is a specific thing for a man and a woman, but I think it's right now to accept the argument that gay people with a longstanding relationship should have a recognised legal connection.

Are you and your wife Ffion planning to have children some day?
Adam Crep, Peterborough

Yes. I'll leave it at that.

People will always want to take drugs. Legalisation and decriminalisation of all narcotics is the only way to control the spiralling drug problem. Discuss.
Rudy Ness, by e-mail

I don't really agree with that. I find it's a difficult issue on which to decide the best policy, and I can see the argument for decriminalisation. But, on balance, I think that the state standing out against drugs and their use is the only way to battle the problem. What has given me that view is talking to people trying to rehabilitate themselves from drugs who generally say to me: "Don't legalise the soft drugs because that's what led us on to the hard drugs."

You have said you would never want your old job back, but that you can help the Conservative Party in other ways. Can you explain?
Rebecca Olmstead, Sunderland

I don't think everyone should aspire to be on the front bench all the time. I've told Michael Howard I will go anywhere and do anything to help him win the next election - other than serve on the front bench. I'll campaign and visit constituencies. I'll do television appearances. Also, I do raise a lot of money for the party.

Would you ever return to the front bench? If so, at what level?
Laya Talebi, Manchester

I have no idea! Definitely not in this parliament. I haven't ruled it out in the future, but I don't feel any urge to do so. I've changed a bit and I've done it before.

'William Pitt the Younger: A Biography' is published by HarperCollins (£25). William Hague is at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature on 14 October

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