The greatest prime minister there never was

24 Oct 2016

William Hague burst onto the political scene at the age of 16 at the 1977 Conservative Party Conference. Little did he know then that he would go on to be Leader of the Opposition, and the greatest Prime Minister there never was.


As much as he was a politician, Hague is an accomplished historian. He has won numerous historical and literary awards for his biographies of William Wilberforce, the successful anti-slave trade campaigner, and William Pitt the Younger, the youngest ever Prime Minister. His stance on these individuals, and his selection of them as his subjects to write on demonstrate a lot about Hague. Both of them were successful from a young age and left lasting legacies on this country – it is very easy to see why Hague might have chosen them as role models, and hence the subjects of his books.


Hague writes both biographies by setting the individuals against the context of the time (Industrial and French Revolutions), and thus, not falling into the trap of claiming that these men are responsible for everything that happened in the period. In doing so, Hague demonstrates his fundamental political values – of pragmatism, rather than ideology. He sees it is the role of a leader to affect change due to the circumstances that they lead under, rather than to blindly impose what they believe. This is one of the crucial messages that he gives as a historian and is, interestingly, similar to the ideas that he conveyed age 16.


Like Pitt and Wilberforce, Hague was a great statesman and a great orator. He was expert from the Despatch Box, as Leader of the Opposition and as a minister. His 2008 speech as Shadow Foreign Secretary is one of glorious wit and intelligence, ridiculing the relationship between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. His humour is appreciated by the whole House, and this aids him in effectively conveying his argument, on this occasion and on many more.


Hague was an effective Foreign Secretary. Working with a shrinking budget, he used his conservative values of pragmatism for the good of his ministry, the country and the people of the world. He worked tirelessly to make British diplomacy the best in the world (he set this as his challenge upon taking up the position), he re-opened a language school for diplomats, created the successful GREAT Britain campaign with the Cabinet Office, which has been influential in ensuring investment in Britain, and  worked alongside Angelina Jolie, on an international platform, to lead the challenge against sexual violence around the world. Hague was one of the best Foreign Secretaries this century, and his experience there is enough to suggest that he would have had success in the top job.


William Hague would have been a very good Prime Minister of the UK. However, unfortunately for him and for us, he took the opportunity to lead his party too early. In 1997, when Hague won the leadership contest, Tony Blair had just stormed into Downing Street with a huge majority. It was inevitable that the Conservatives would almost certainly not overturn this by the next election, and that would be that for Hague’s leadership.


We will never know what would have happened if Hague waited and then took the job at a more opportune time. Hague continued to play at the top of British politics after that – he was one of the senior figures in David Cameron’s shadow cabinets, played a key role in the 2010 coalition negotiations, and then was one of the leading lights in that government. Hague had an excellent career in the House of Commons and as an MP; it is a real shame for our country that he never became Prime Minister, for he would have been a great one.





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