William Hague: You Ask The Questions

The shadow Foreign Secretary answers your questions, such as 'Do you have any desire to lead your party again?' and 'Do you still wear a baseball cap?'
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The Independent Online

Do you have any desire to be leader of the Conservative Party again? Kate Nelson, Harpenden

No. Obviously, I wouldn't have returned to the front bench if I wasn't happy with the leader we have got, but irrespective of that I will not serve as leader of the Conservative Party again. You have to know a lot of people in politics, but above all you have to know yourself. Having been leader and resigned, I know a lot more about what I am prepared to do.

What is the best advice you have been able to give David Cameron? Rob Johnson, by email

Have advisers who keep their advice confidential! I don't discuss what I discuss with him, which means we can talk about anything with complete frankness. I see that as part of my role as an ex-leader. I can tell anybody what I think – and any leader that he is mortal.

Do you regret voting for the invasion of Iraq? Felicity Arbuthnot, by email

No. My regret is that the occupation of Iraq was badly executed and the chance to achieve rapid peace was lost. It is now time for a major inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war.

Do you think British forces should pull out of Iraq now? Peter Dowell, Lincoln

No. The Government is correct to be reducing the number deployed there, and we Conservatives have supported that. The remainder should only be there as long as they are necessary for the security of southern Iraq and the political stability of the country.

Would you now be happy to vote for an attack on Iran, given that the International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that in another three to four months its investigations will clear Iran of having a nuclear weapons programme? Lesley Docksey, Dorset

No. I have never called for an attack on Iran, but the Iranians are continuing to build the capacity to make a nuclear bomb, with all that would mean for the stability of the Middle East and the world. European nations should be stepping up the economic pressure on Iran in a peaceful and multilateral way.

Is it possible to maintain relations with the Arab world while implementing sanctions on Iran? Marita Silberbauer, Westerham

Yes. Arab nations are among those most concerned by Iranian policy. Many are in favour of much tougher sanctions.

Is an ethical foreign policy a worthy or practical goal? Michael Spring, by email

Idealism in foreign policy will always be tempered with realism, and the mistake of 10 years ago was to give the impression that policy would be almost exclusively determined by ethical considerations. Policies should always be consistent with support for human rights, political freedom, economic liberalism and humanitarian intervention when it is practical.

Should we be taking stronger action against Zimbabwe? Dwight Jackson, Lewes

Yes. We have to recognise that our power to change events in Zimbabwe on our own is very limited. Real pressure can only come from other African nations. But it is possible for Britain and the EU to tighten the sanctions we already have in place. Gordon Brown has been right to refuse to go to the EU-African Union summit if Mr Mugabe is there. However, whoever does represent this country should lay before the summit the crimes of the Mugabe regime so that this gathering of national leaders can hear the truth which they seem to wish to ignore.

Following your comments that 'we should not be afraid to criticise Israel' and the reaction from some of your MPs, will your party forever be biased in favour of Israel? Majid Hussain, Woking

I am a long-standing friend of Israel, but, I hope, a candid one. We need a secure Israel living in peace alongside a Palestinian state. At the moment this seems a distant dream, but we will see shortly at the meeting at Annapolis in the US, whether both sides are prepared to make the compromises necessary to move the peace process forward.

Don't you think it is a full-time job being an MP and shadow Foreign Secretary, rather than exploiting it to earn money from books and speeches? Kevin O'Driscoll, Birmingham

It is more than a full-time job and I have always worked a lot more than any normal definition of "full time". However, I flatly disagree with the idea that MPs should have no other interests – my books have given me a totally different perspective on events than just being caught up in what is happening today, and my speeches have given me the financial independence to operate in politics without fear or favour. If you only want MPs who don't want to write about history and who no one would pay to listen to, well good luck to you.

You charge on average £10,000 per speech. Do you think Tony Blair should be charging £237,000? Is that good value for money or are they paying for his celebrity? Jeff Downs, Manchester

To put it in perspective, I will have given about 250 speeches this year, of which I have been paid for 14. So my usual fee is zero. For Tony Blair's reported fee it must have been one of the greatest orations in history. I am sure it was, aren't you?

I consider the EU and the euro to be tremendous successes. Am I right? Steve Manning, Cheshire

Only partly. The greatest success of the EU has been its effect on the nations of central and eastern Europe as they have aspired to join it, helping to make democracy and market economies the norm. However, its performance still needs much improvement when it comes to really implementing a true single market – for instance in services – or avoiding wasteful excesses such as the Common Agricultural Policy. As for the euro, only time will tell whether it works for those countries which have joined it. What is clear is that it would be inappropriate for a country like ours with our different housing market and huge financial services sector. There is now no serious political or economic commentator remaining in Britain who thinks we should join the euro in the foreseeable future.

In the world of global entities, is there a viable alternative to our whole-hearted membership of the EU? John Romer, Ealing

It is not just a world of global entities, it is also a world of the small, flexible business, the jobs that move to where taxation and regulation are at sensible levels, and the nation that can make itself more attractive to live and work in. That means being in the EU but not subscribing to every piece of integration and legislating in which it indulges. A Europe of 27 nations – and hopefully more in the future – needs the flexibility to allow some nations to join together on some issues but others to choose not to do so. The euro is obviously a case in point. So we should be arguing for a more flexible Europe and not think we always have to go along with things not in the interests of our country.

Do you regret opposing the minimum wage and saying it would lead to 'millions' of job losses? Harry Franks, by email

I don't recall ever saying that but we did, yes, oppose the minimum wage. Its effect on jobs depends on the level at which it is set, but I also think that time moves on and no government turns back from everything its predecessors did. The minimum wage is here to stay.

Be honest, the Conservative Party only cares about rich people and will cut funding for everything from public services to the arts. How do you plead? Joel Mellinger, London

Not guilty. It is time to snap out of prejudices like that and wake up to the world. If you could listen, for example, to Iain Duncan-Smith and the work he has done on poverty and our "broken society" you might get a more balanced view of what the political parties are like. Well, you wanted me to be honest!

Have you worn a baseball cap since the Notting Hill incident? Marc Godwin, Surrey

I occasionally sneak one on when the sun is hot. This does of course risk a bit of ribaldry but getting skin cancer is probably a worse idea than that. I did wear one on a delegation to America this summer and the other MPs thought it was very funny. But if you saw what some of them were wearing...

Why did you feel it was appropriate to pay a courtesy call on General Pinochet when he was in England following the Spanish magistrate's attempt to have him prosecuted for some of his appalling crimes? Jennifer Corsi, by email

I have never met General Pinochet. Funny what people think, sometimes.

Do you agree with Lord Tebbit that David Cameron and his public schoolboy clique haven't got a clue about how the other half live? Russell Child, London

Another one of those balanced questions! No, not at all. I work with David Cameron practically every day and I don't recognise any "clique". He has usually got me on one side of him and David Davis on the other, and we are both about as far from being public schoolboys as you can get. By the way, it may just be worth me pointing something out here relating to most MPs, wherever they were educated and whichever party they belong to. We may all have many and varied faults – and we certainly do – but not knowing what life is like in our constituencies is not one of them, since we hold advice surgeries and receive a deluge of mail every week.

If you could travel back in time and say one thing to the teenage William Hague as he was about to address Tory conference, what would it be? Hilary Overy, by email

Don't do it! That is what I said to a hopeful teenager who asked me for advice at the conference last year. It has never been an asset to me. However, for all the problems it may have caused me, I will always have a sneaking pride in the teenager who stood up and told Mrs Thatcher and everyone else what to do. So maybe the better advice would be "do it, but remember it is the easiest speech you will ever have to give".

What was your biggest mistake as Tory leader? Rachel Girling, by email

I think I underestimated how many times you have to say something before anybody really notices. As a result, I moved too rapidly from one approach to another, thinking whatever I had tried just didn't work, when sometimes it just needed persistence.

Can you tell us a joke, or do we have to pay for it? Colin Davis, by email

Since you ask like that, I think you may have to pay for it. But you can gain access to political jokes whenever you want – remember a lot of them have been elected!

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