Hague was wrong to rubbish old guard, says Major loyalist

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Gillian Shephard, the former education secretary, has criticised William Hague for rubbishing the "old guard" of former ministers who he dropped from the Tory frontbench team.

Gillian Shephard, the former education secretary, has criticised William Hague for rubbishing the "old guard" of former ministers who he dropped from the Tory frontbench team.

In an interview with The Independent, Mrs Shephard said the Tory leader was right to bring in "fresh blood" to his Shadow Cabinet, but she was "irritated" that his aides briefed journalists that she and other former ministers of the Major government were "hanging on for dear life" to opposition frontbench jobs.

"I was angry," she said. "We were being accused of clinging on to the tiny vestiges of power, that we couldn't live without it. The reverse was true. I felt from the start that new people should get their chance."

Mrs Shephard resigned from the Tory frontbench last year after a showdown with Mr Hague in which she demanded an end to the briefings against her. The incident is revealed in her book, Shephard's Watch, in which she says the briefing "allowed William Hague to be portrayed, inaccurately, as ungracious towards the colleagues with whom he had also served in the Major cabinets and as rejecting a past of which he had been part".

Apart from Mr Hague, the only member of today's Shadow Cabinet who survives from the Major years is Sir George Young. Mrs Shephard regretted the departure of Viscount Cranborne, sacked by Mr Hague for his secret negotiations with Mr Blair over hereditary peers, and urged the Tory leader to consider recalling him.

"The Conservative Party cannot do without the experience, wisdom and sheer style of people like Robert Cranborne," she said.

She welcomed the recall of John Redwood, who has returned to campaigning only months after being dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet, calling him "assiduous, vigilant and skilful". But she praised Mr Hague for his "brains, courage and tenacity" and said his greatest quality was his "super thick skin", which she said neither John Major and Tony Blair had.

Mrs Shephard believes history will judge Mr Major more kindly than the voters did in 1997. In her book, subtitled Illusions of Power in British Politics, she concludes that prime ministers are chosen for a particular quality and later criticised for displaying it. Thus, Baroness Thatcher was elected when people wanted a strong leader and was later seen as "autocratic", while Mr Major was more consensual but then attacked for "dithering".

"Shephard's Watch" by Gillian Shephard is published tomorrow by Politico's.

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