Leading Article: Hague gropes for a New Toryism

Related Topics
WILL THE real Will step forward, please? During the past few weeks there have seemed to be two William Hagues struggling for possession of the Tory leader. Like ferrets in a sack they have fought, and the blood is trailed across successive half-coherent speeches. Is he a liberal or a conservative, a localist or a centralist, a reactionary or a progressive, a preserver of the truth and beauty of the Ancient Constitution or a radical moderniser? At the moment he seems to be dashing from side to side of the political track faster than an Olympic bobsleigh.

Some say that at this stage in the game, with Tory recovery still far off, inconsistency does not matter. Look at Disraeli and Peel - they rose out of adversity and played two ends against the middle. (Tory historical consciousness leaps over such problem figures as Churchill and Thatcher.) Besides, they say, the Tory leader's priority ought to be opposition; he should be harrying the Government at every turn. But can credible opposition really just forget what the Tory government in power till last May actually did, let alone those principles which Toryism is supposed to embody? A gang of opportunists calling Tony Blair opportunist sound a mite unconvincing.

Yet we hear Francis Maude berating the Dome at every turn, conveniently ignoring who launched the project and oblivious to the support given it by the Tory grandee Michael Heseltine. We see William Hague waving his support for constitutional innovations - such as an elected assembly for London - with one hand while, with the other, he bats away at the reforms like an irate colonial colonel bothered by mosquitoes. We now love local councils, says William Hague, but we hate really-existing local government as practised in Hackney or Islington or Manchester.

As for Europe, we hardly need John Redwood's inability to keep the lid on his xenophobia to see that this dog has not lain down and died since Mr Hague won the leadership; it just lies there, a political Hound of the Baskervilles, occasionally snarling. The Tory party, apparently oblivious of any responsibility to think constructively about the destiny of this country, is left wallowing in the wake of Chancellor Kohl, hoping that his project for monetary union will come adrift, not realising that Tony Blair has positioned himself far better for such an eventuality.

On the few occasions since his election when William Hague has shown his own instincts he has appeared a not unattractive leader of what there will always need to be in British politics - a progressive, pro-property, anti-taxation right-of-centre party. Reviled though he was for wearing a baseball cap to the Notting Hill Carnival, that was the gesture of one who realised where our culture hummed, whose own preference is for a politics of inclusion.

But since then he seems to have allowed himself to be continually hemmed in. Take, this week, a plethora of pronouncements on Britain's electoral future. The anal-retentive tendency seems to have conquered. Just why, for example, is proportional representation such a threat, either to the Tory party or to the nation? Is the fabric of British political life so stretched, so weakened that we cannot afford a glorious experiment in choice and diversity? If PR were the threat his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies would imply, what does Mr Hague offer as an alternative means of persuading people that parliamentary politics is for them, that the system will allow them to vote successfully for representatives they can trust?

Are we any the wiser than we were about Tory ambitions for the House of Lords? William Hague, a meritocrat, seems to have been so overawed by the lineage of Robert Cranborne (Tory leader in the Lords) that he now feels compelled to support the hereditary principle as the basis for a second chamber. Forward to the next century with a gang of drooling, property-owning aristocrats - is that really the kind of thing the Saatchi brothers are going to be invited to sell on Mr Hague's behalf?

Tony Blair ought, we believe, to be a lot more radical in his thinking. But at least New Labour has begun the process of political renewal. What have the Tories to lose by joining the hunt for new forms by which the popular voice can find expression, new methods to secure people's assent to political decisions? On this week's evidence William Hague is still too much a captive of his party's stick-in-the-mud wing. His very future as party leader, let alone the future capacity of the Tories to fight the good democratic fight, depends on his breaking free.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...