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William Hague caps off his busy summer in unapologetic fashion

By Peter Hoskin
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The life of a Foreign Secretary is no doubt always busy, but William Hague certainly does seem to have been busier than usual this summer. First he helped run the country in the Prime Minister’s and Deputy Prime Minister’s collective absence; then he was embroiled in the ongoing Julian Assange case; and now he’s giving interviews about it all. The Evening Standard features a particularly extensive conversation with him today, which I’ve filtered down into these five quick points:

Winning the popularity contest. “When I was leader of the party there were always polls showing I was the least popular,” observes Mr Hague, “Since I took no notice of these things I’ve become more popular. So I propose to go on taking no notice whatsoever.” I’ve pull this passage out not just because I like how he says that he takes “no notice whatsoever” of “these things” but also knows that his popularity has risen, but also because it’s startlingly true. Indeed, a recent YouGov poll found that Mr Hague was the most popular of six ministers — including Vince Cable — with voters. As with Iain Duncan Smith, this turnaround from the Tory wilderness years is quite astonishing.

Stand-off with Ecuador. So are we going to batter down the doors of Ecuadorian embassy and yank Julian Assange out by his laptop wires? Don’t bet on it. For starters, William Hague downplays the idea that this was ever going to happen, saying that ““There’s never been a plan to storm the embassy. I can’t see every situation that could arise, but we are not making a threat against the Ecuadorean embassy.” And then he adds that the current impasse could prevail “for a long time”. Barring progress on the diplomatic front, it looks to be a question of how long Assange can stay indoors.

Ambassador for Boris Island? Hague treads a familiar line when it comes to Heathrow, pointing out that the government promised not to allow a third runway. But then he adds — in a way that invites interpretation — that, “I think for the long term the answer is probably more radical”. Does he mean Boris Island? Perhaps. In any case, the question of a Thames Estuary airport hasn’t yet prompted an open and rabid split between the Tories and Lib Dems in government, but it could do.

Never apologise... it’s a sign of weakness. There’s a touch of Captain Nathan Brittles in William Hague’s call for what the Evening Standard describes as “the end of our post-empire apologetic relations” — or as he puts it himself, “We have to get out of this post-colonial guilt. Be confident in ourselves.” And, in that spirit, he also has a few words to say about Iran, Syria and Russia. His warnings may be more restrained than those we hear from, say, Mitt Romney, but they’re there. And they typify how, from the current White House administration to Westminster, Western politicians are substituting a ground war in Afghanistan with what is, for now, a war of words against those three countries. This shift may be obvious but it’s also one of the most significant of the past four years.

Many years to come. There’s been a question mark hovering over William Hague’s political career for several years now: how long will he bother? When will he retire to a ranch to write books? Yet, while retains a certain ambiguity on the matter in today’s interview (as did in an interview with ConservativeHome), he does suggest that he won’t be off at the next election. In his words, “It’s many years away.”


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