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UK Politics

Hague's judgement questioned over Coulson saga

The Foreign Secretary was keen to get the former editor into the Tory party

Yesterday lunchtime William Hague enjoyed an "invigorating walk" in his constituency, far away from the turmoil of Westminster. Even in the wilds of Yorkshire, fellow ramblers would easily recognise one of the best-known figures in British politics.

The one-time Tory party leader has morphed from figure of ridicule to respectable elder statesman. He was right-wing reassurance to the grass roots and David Cameron's "deputy in all but name". Fast forward past the general election, and Mr Cameron has a deputy in name – and he is not even a Tory. Meanwhile, Mr Hague is facing questions about his judgement – over sharing a twin room with a 25-year-old aide, his backing for the controversial party donor Lord Ashcroft and his support for the hiring of Andy Coulson as the party's spin chief. Senior colleagues privately fear Mr Hague is "becoming a liability".

Public opinion of the 49-year-old has shifted in recent days. A week ago, internet rumours about his sexuality were just that. Only when the official government machine reacted did the mainstream press wade in and an otherwise ignorant electorate began discussing Mr Hague's sexuality.

When a press statement from the Foreign Office – insisting the relationship with Mr Myers was "purely professional" – failed to kill the story, the Foreign Secretary turned to Mr Coulson for help. It was like trying to douse a candle flame with a can of petrol.

It is understood that together with the Tory party's head of press, Henry Macrory, Mr Coulson was pushing for the confessional second statement, giving details of Mr Hague's difficulties in having a baby and denying he had "ever been involved in a relationship with any man". For his part, Mr Hague was reluctant, but deferred to the instincts of the tabloid hack. They go back a long way. Mr Hague earned some £200,000 a year writing a column for the News of the World when Mr Coulson was editor. When the latter was forced to resign in the wake of the phone-hacking revelations in January 2007, Mr Hague was among those pressing to "get him on board".

Questions also persist about what exactly Mr Hague knew of the tax status of Lord Ashcroft, who for some years funded his private office and later controlled the purse strings of the Tory's election campaign. University friends from his Oxford days remember the affable Yorkshireman having good judgement about people. His new colleagues in the Foreign Office have been equally impressed at his deft handling of the vast department.

But doubts remain about Mr Hague's ability to shake off the events and revelations of the past week. He has often faced questions about his hopes of a second stab at being Tory leader. He may not be asked them in future.