The enduring political appeal ofthe professional Yorkshireman

'Hague speaks Wilson's brogue. And Wilson could surely spot his pretender's opportunism'
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The Independent Online

She doesn't bark, she honks, and what is more Her Majesty's leader of the Opposition listens to her very carefully indeed.

She doesn't bark, she honks, and what is more Her Majesty's leader of the Opposition listens to her very carefully indeed.

Thanks to a recent Channel 4 profile of William Hague, we now know that "Mother Goose", aka Doreen Whitehead of Sweldale, North Yorkshire is the Opposition Leader's secret weapon. Geese are said to be more alert than Alsatian guard dogs, and Doreen is happy to act as an early warning device.

Doreen Whitehead and her husband Ernest run a bed and breakfast, Butt House to be precise and they - or rather Doreen - has the ear of the man who would be Prime Minister. "The way to a man's heart," says Doreen, ever the professional Yorkshire woman, "is through his stomach and William does like chocolate cake." Before our eyes William was being re-invented. Forget the topless judo wrestling with Sebastian Coe, here was a reflective Hague happy to ramble at length - about the delights of, erm, Rambling in the Dales.

Doreen leads a whole cast of characters who could have stepped straight from the cast of Last of the Summer Wine. Auntie Marge who famously won the lottery, William's Go-Kart-crashing dad. Friends and family, in turn endearing and eccentric, maddening and yet so un-metropolitan. Definitely not very fashionable at all. Yet all urging Greaseborough's most famous son on to victory - whatever the tongue-in-cheek barbs of William Hague's sister Veronica, who happily referred to her brother as the "Tory pig", these people genuinely liked William Hague.

"How retro, how unprofessional!" I hear the focus-group gurus who helped fashion New Labour mutter. But the intent is clear. Voters are being asked to compare and contrast the folksy, kitchen-table manner of Mother Goose of Butt House with the soulless, boardroom style of Philip Gould of Ludgate House - sometime memorandum writer to the Prime Minister.

This peek behind the scenes can only mark the next stage of William Hague's countryside-against-town battle, now more an assault from the regions against the pretensions of a London set grown arrogant with power. Mother Goose may be matronly, but, by 'eck, she ain't Home Counties.

Once the laughter at the apparent absurdity of the Hague troupe of comic characters has subsided, it may be time to get serious.

Tony Blair's biggest problem is that the public now perceives him to be arrogant. Blair and his aides are baffled by this. For up until now, the accusation has been that he pretends to be all things to all people. So, supposedly, Blair is the antidote to the woman William Hague once doted on, Margaret Thatcher.

But perception is all, and the sea change in public attitudes towards New Labour is based on a perception that Tony and his friends live a life of glittering opulence surrounded by rich businessmen and celebrities. Accordingly, as Mother Goose herself might claim, they have precious little interest in the lives of ordinary people. Scroll back to the general election of 1964 and Harold Wilson, pipe in hand, lecturing audiences on the deficiencies of the effete aristocratic incumbent, and habitué of the grouse moor, Alec Douglas Home. Hell! Hague even speaks Wilson's brogue. And Wilson could surely spot his pretender's opportunism.

Facing the Channel 4 cameras, the former McKinsey management consultant attacked members of the Cabinet for not having any real experience of manufacturing industry - they were, said Hague, simply "parasites". If Mother Goose is to lead the squawking matrons of Middle-ing England for flogging and hanging, her gander, William Hague, is concentrating on the political strategy necessary to ensnare Labour in a pincer movement. He was happy to lend his support to the motley collection of fox hunters and farmers, who in the shape of the Countryside Alliance encouraged the government to run away from its commitment to ban fox hunting.

Noting the ease at which this surrender was achieved, Hague may then have stumbled on an unlikely long-term strategy of distancing himself from the extremities of the Thatcher era, while undermining the New Labour party of Tony Blair by focusing on what it had left behind. "Old Labour without the socialism" may seem an unlikely battle cry for the Tories, but consider recent events, never forgetting the earlier astonishing personal transformation of Michael Portillo from strutting hard man of the Right, to the caring, listening Michael Portillo we know today.

As William Hague positioned himself as the foremost of "Little Englanders", he was happy to voice support for the plight of flying pickets of farmers and hauliers blocking Britain's oil refineries in a series of secondary actions. In the old Tory days, such wildcat strikes would have been condemned out of hand by ministers. During the recent fuel crisis, it fell to Labour ministers to wax about the country "being held to ransom".

Hague has been quick to identify with pensioners, and with students in an attempt to undercut Labour. He has promised to increase the basic state pension above and beyond whatever Gordon Brown is prepared to offer in his pre-budget statement. As a result of Mother Goose's benign intervention, William Hague now wants to review student loans. This week in Bournemouth, his education spokeswoman, Teresa May, will announce a new initiative in dealing with student poverty. A bit rich, given their record? Yes. Opportunistic? Certainly. But effective? Possibly.

Old Labour was demonstrably sceptical about Europe - or rather of a Common Market presided over by un-elected commissioners and big businessmen. Now this particular aspect has become William Hague's preserve, and Euro-scepticism provides his richest seam. Old Labour used to savage the free market, while today John Redwood dusts off Edward Heath's maxim about Tiny Rowland as the "unacceptable face of capitalism" to describe certain aspects of globalisation.

The world has truly turned upside down and the public can be forgiven their mood of volatility and confusion. Harold Wilson's pretender - in cahoots with the Trojan Goose - has surely got as far as he should be allowed to go.

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