In 2001 or so, I wrote a speech for Iain Duncan Smith that went well enough, and was drafted on the back of it into his team for Prime Minister's Questions prep. The other three members were David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson (and I should say in passing that those first two were infinitely better at the task than I was). I thus spent part of each week, for the best half of four years, with the duo that leads the Conservative Party.
I never saw them tip the wink at their underlings to "destroy" a senior Shadow Minister, or leak details of another's alleged "drinking, fighting and carousing", or tip off newspapers about their rivals "drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs" - all conduct that Damian McBride writes of in his memoir, serialisation of which opens in the Daily Mail today. There are three possible explanations for this (assuming that Tory MPs as well as Labour ones are vulnerable to drinking, fighting, carousing, drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs which, since human nature is a given, is a reasonable presumption).
The first is that I'm incapable of seeing what goes on at the end of my nose. The second is that Cameron and Osborne did all this and more when I wasn't around. The third is that it didn't happen - or at least, to nothing like the same degree. Call me sentimental, self-deceived or a liar, but I'm sure the explanaton is the third. You don't get to the top of politics without being ruthless - and both are as much so as any politician I worked with during my ten years in the Commons. None the less, I can't imagine either discussing plans to set up a paper called, say, "Blue Rag" to smear a woman Labour MP with fictitious tales - as McBride did in relation to Nadine Dorries.
William Hague's greatest moment was his campaign to save the pound. He compared the ERM to a burning building with exits and EMU to a burning building without exits. His argument - lonely at the time - that we needed to see the euro work in good times and bad has been 100% vindicated.
Many reporters seem to believe that William Hague is some sort of head-banging, swivel-eyed Eurosceptic (the same silly language is always used) who will now be restrained from Basil Fawlty-style insults to our European allies by the LibCon deal.
In reality William Hague has been a much more pragmatic figure for a good five years. He was cautious about Tory MEPs leaving the EPP in shadow cabinet, has relaxed traditional Conservative support for Israel and opposed the surge of troops led by General Petraeus in Iraq.
Foreign policy – including European policy – will be remarkable for its similarity to what went before. The continuity of European policy will be reinforced by the Coalition deal but that much was also obvious last autumn when Hague and Cameron ‘long-grassed’ the European issue when they announced no post- Lisbon referendum.
The replacement of Mark Francois with David Lidington as Europe spokesman confirms this. Lidington – a long-term Hague aide - is no Europhile but he’s a pragmatist. He’ll put a premium on good relations with European counterparts.