Hague's gang go corporate bonding

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The Independent Online
No one in Britain, apparently, recognises William Hague. When shown photographs of the affable Conservative leader, voters often identify the bald head and even features in the snap, with Niles from the TV comedy show Frasier, or (less flatteringly) Homer Simpson.

Strangely, Mr Hague is less well known now than a year ago when he was secretary of state for Wales; in fact the evidence indicates that fewer people every day know who he is. At the current rate of forgetting, Mr Hague has about six months before he wakes up, looks in the mirror and mutters something about the face being familiar, but the name entirely escaping him.

This is, of course, no comment on Mr Hague's talents or personality. He has sunk into the obscurity that any leader of the current Conservative Party would. The world does not care what he thinks or what he does. So Mr Hague - once a management consultant - has decided that if his party is to amount to anything, it must modernise, restructure, redefine and communicate (MRRC). He has at his right hand Archie Norman MP, the man who single-handedly took the Asda chain from whatever it was, to whatever it is now (I apologise for the imprecision; I am not a City expert). And on his left he has the consultancy firm, McKinseys (company motto: once in, never out).

Together they have decided to call together all 164 of the party's MPs - its middle management, if you like - for a weekend at a country hotel. Dress will be informal, meaning slacks, nasty shirts and the occasional pair of moccasins. Spouses will be left at home.

For three days and two nights the captive Tories will discuss and will bond. On the Monday morning they will leave, far better integrated into the corporate strategy of the organisation - no longer resisters of change, but its agents.

How will this be accomplished? I know, for I have done it. When at the BBC I enjoyed several such weekends in the company of colleagues, as we re-oriented ourselves to the new tasks facing the corporation. So this is what will happen.

On the first day, after a little pep talk from Mr Hague ("Why we need not fear change"), the MPs will be split up into groups of around 10 and be asked to brainstorm the "role and function of the Conservative Party". This they will do by calling out words in free association, which will be written down on yellow Post-its and stuck on a wall (I imagine Alan Clark's group will be the one to watch here). These will then be grouped in categories ("protecting wealth and privilege" going together, say, with "extending private education"), and then taken back to the plenary session, where results will be compared.

In the afternoon there will be trust games. The simplest is the one where you all stand round in a circle - and someone in the centre has to close their eyes and topple over. The idea is that the toppler should be caught in the arms of his/her colleagues before damaging themselves on the hard floor. Thus they will learn to trust each other. Teresa Gorman may be hoping that she isn't chosen to stand in the middle. Everybody else will be hoping that it isn't the very substantial Sir Patrick Cormack.

Next comes the desert survival game. Let us imagine ourselves part of a group together with Michael Howard, William himself, Virginia Bottomley, Ann Widdecombe, Nicholas Winterton and Desmond Swayne. The scenario is that we are a party of travellers whose plane has crashed in the desert, and now has three days to find its way back to water and civilisation. We have a list of 10 things that we can salvage from the plane, but which we must rank in order of importance, since we may not take all of them. They include a knife, a water bottle and Mrs Thatcher's autobiography. But though groups tend to want to find a "right" answer which optimises their chances of survival, the real trick is in the process of negotiation. Ann Widdecombe, for example, will have to persuade the group of the usefulness of, say, the knife. Michael Howard may want to argue against. How will they attempt to convince their colleagues? Much fun will be had by all.

On the second day there will be many flow diagrams depicting circles, pyramids, intersecting lines and bubbles. The trick here is to stay awake, because the desired answers are rather obvious. But in the afternoon it's back into groups for orienteering in the countryside, as - with a map and a compass - Kenneth Clarke and John Redwood attempt to guide you back, through bog and briar, to the hotel. But perhaps you'd rather stay on the moor.

Miles Kington is on holiday.

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