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Could the Bowland Basin spark the north-west’s version of the Texas oil rush? This geological feature, with its promise of lucrative shale gas deposits, extends from the Irish Sea across much of Lancashire and even into parts of Yorkshire. In my constituency, some 23% of the land is open for licenses to test and explore for possible fracking sites.
According to one estimate there could be up to £366bn of recoverable gas across the basin, with this new industry promising to bring new jobs and be a game-changer for cheap and secure energy in the UK, as it has been in the USA.
But the UK is not the USA. One of the major differences is that British landowners and householders, unlike their American counterparts, do not own the mineral rights under their land. The fact there will be no direct financial bonanza from drilling under their land has actually taken a while to be widely appreciated.
Now the proposed Infrastructure Bill could remove even the age-old right to withhold permission for drilling under your property. This rather heavy-handed manoeuvre simply reinforces a suspicion that the Government is bowing down too easily to the international oil and gas companies.
When we start (literally) undermining property rights, is it any wonder the conspiracy theorists and eco-warriors are having a field day?
Even leaving aside the much-discussed environmental considerations, legitimate concerns of residents about the effects have to be met with something more than just an appeal to understand our national interest and energy needs. That’s why councils and MPs have been working on a cross-party basis to try to secure assurances of a better deal for Lancashire.
So, we are told areas to be fracked will now get a financial return after all. Companies have pledged to provide ‘community benefits in areas where shale is commercially extracted’, which will apparently comprise £100,000 for communities near exploratory wells and 1% of revenues for every production site. On top of this the Government has now promised local councils will get 100% of business rates – a welcome, if late, addition to the financial promises.
This all feels rather confusing, and a number of significant questions remain unanswered. Most notably, who are the ‘community’? Those on top of the actual fracking process? The local government ward or parish in which it takes place? And how are the financial benefits going to be distributed – by household? Through the council? Can it be spent on anything or will the companies decide? Who is guaranteeing they will pay up? And is 1% really enough of a return?
But perhaps the most significant concern is this: what guarantee do we have that a future Secretary of State for Local Government will not take these financial rewards into account when it comes to deciding on central grants?
If they do, we could find ourselves in a situation where nothing extra will have been gained. That issue could be addressed if revenues are paid into a kind of Trust Fund for Lancashire, along the lines of the Shetland Charitable Trust, to ensure benefits are maintained for the whole county. Only through such safeguards can this new industry begin to be sold to local people.
Eric Ollerenshaw is Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood
September is upon us once again. Memories of summer holidays are fading, nights are starting to draw in, and ministers are turning their attention to party conference season. But for the Department for Transport, September is also a time of preparation. This is when we get ready for the winter months ahead, so our transport network remains resilient in bad weather and travel disruption is kept to a minimum. Last year, I was reliably informed that our salt stocks were at a record high and we were extremely well prepared for the snow… Well, I’m pleased to say that our salt stocks are still at those same record levels!
For while 2010 will long be remembered as the year of severe snow and ice, last winter was the wettest on record. From the St Jude storm on 27 October onwards, seemingly unending heavy rainfall, high tides and flooding inflicted significant damage to our transport infrastructure across many parts of the country. Our rail network was badly hit, particularly in the south-west and most dramatically at Dawlish. Many local roads also took a battering, as did some of our ports as the result of turbulent seas and powerful tides, and Gatwick’s North Terminal was partially closed in the busy runup to Christmas.
We’ve provided help to clear up the mess and improve resilience for the future. That’s included £31m for ten rail projects across the south-west, £183.5m for councils to undertake urgent road repairs, and £2m to help our smaller ports get back into working order. In this year’s Budget we also announced a new £200m pothole fund – that’s enough to repair over 3m potholes across the country. And thanks to the efforts of an army of transport engineers – like those who rebuilt the vital Dawlish link in just a few months – much of that unprecedented damage has now been repaired and, in many instances, infrastructure has been made stronger.
The consensus among the scientific community is that extreme winter weather may become more common in future, so it is important that the country is as prepared as it can be. That’s why I commissioned Richard Brown, with excellent support from Brian Smith and John Curley, to undertake a review of the resilience of the transport network to extreme weather events. Their final report was published in July and looked at the impact of extreme weather on roads, railways, ports and airports.
The report was as comprehensive as it was far-reaching. It made some 60 recommendations for action by transport operators and central and local government. These ranged from short-term practical steps – such as those designed to improve basic maintenance of ditches, drains and vegetation – to longer-term recommendations, such as those on the economic signals and legislative provisions which have a bearing upon the resilience of our transport system.
As the report found, there is no silver bullet or single, instant solution that will make our transport network more resilient. What’s required is that everyone involved learns from what happened last year: that the likely impact of severe weather is anticipated, what’s needed to improve resilience is better understood and that services are brought back to normal more quickly.
We have been working over the summer with operators, local and central government to ensure the report’s recommendations are acted upon and we all have the right winter management plans in place. Whilst we cannot say with certainty what the coming winter will be like, it is possible that very severe weather may cause some disruption. If that happens, we will be doing everything in our power to fix any problems, minimise disruption and help keep Britain moving.
We can all take steps to ensure we are better prepared for the rigours of winter weather, from making sure our car tyres are in good order to draught-proofing rickety windows. From October this year, look out for the ‘Get Ready for Winter’ campaign. It is a partnership between the Met Office, Government and the voluntary sector, and will provide all the information that’s needed to help you survive the frosty mornings, snowy days and longer evenings in front of the fire over the coming months.
Patrick McLoughlin is Transport Secretary and Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales
Since Coke of Norfolk sparked the agricultural revolution with the development of crop rotation, Britain has been leading the world in the way we grow, produce and eat our food. From the hi-tech labs at John Innes developing the latest strain of disease-free tomato to the gastropub, Britain is a leader in the field. We also play a major role in thinking on air, water and conservation.
This strength is vital to our economy and security. At its most basic, good flood defences, protection from disease outbreaks and food security are vital for investment into the UK. But it is about much more than that. We know how much we all benefit from a high-quality natural environment. People want to understand where their food comes from and have a better connection with the countryside where it is produced. They will increasingly choose where they live and work accordingly. And in raw economic terms, the share of GDP represented by food and drink is growing rather than declining. Food and drink is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. The whole industry, from farm to fork, contributes £97bn to the economy and employs 3.6m people.
As Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I want us to lead the world in this vital area. Our producers must have access to the latest techniques and the best skills. We need to make sure that the best use is made of our land, instead of pushing production overseas through perverse incentives. We should look at the countries that are becoming more competitive and learn from them – as well as the most productive sectors in the UK – to enable producers and manufacturers to do more and do better.
There has been a welcome revival in local food, whether it be the Large Black pig in Norfolk, Wensleydale cheese from Yorkshire or Cornish sardines. It is fantastic to see a step towards a rich food culture, away from the identikit food that bedevilled postwar Britain. We want to do what we can to promote it, increase consumer information, and highlight the benefits of shorter supply chains – eating locally and seasonally. This is about more than just the fantastic taste; it is about identity and connection to our landscape. In the Norfolk Brecks, unique flora and fauna coexist with arable and pig farming. Nearby in the Fens, the black fertile soil – a result of the draining of the land in the 17th century – is perfect for the protected designation Fenland celery.
We are making it easier for government departments, schools and hospitals to buy top-quality local produce, opening up £400m of new supply opportunities to British farmers. In the Defra canteen, we will now be eating British bacon – not Danish bacon – and we are also bringing the benefits of high-quality British food to people across the globe. We’ve been opening overseas markets from the US to China to Japan, increasing exports of UK food and drink by 7% since 2010.
Our consumers must have confidence and clear information about the food they buy. We are cracking down on food fraudsters trying to mislead the public with a new Food Crime Unit. We have improved country of origin labelling – from next year pork and lamb will have this label, following on from beef in 1999. We are enhancing food education so children understand where food comes from as well as nutrition and how to cook it. More consumers are choosing to eat high-quality British produce, with a 10% rise in British beef on sale at supermarkets this year.
We want farmers to be spending their time producing top-quality food, not form filling. I have called for an urgent review of the arbitrary three-crop rule which is part of the Common Agricultural Policy. We want farmers to be growing what the British public want to buy. Our earned recognition scheme means fewer duplicate inspections, saving taxpayers’ money and farmer time.
Maintaining our natural environment is vital to our country’s future. Over this parliament we will have planted 1m trees, have developed natural corridors and seen thousands of species better protected. We will shortly be completing further work to support bees and pollinators. Water is being better conserved and cleaned up. Defra has world-leading scientists informing policy, and I want the wider public to understand the science that underpins our work to support the natural environment.
Maintaining our biosecurity is vital to keeping our environment as disease and pest-free as possible, and to stopping invasive non-native species entering the UK. We take action pre-border as well as at the border in order to protect our native plants and wildlife. At the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency we have protected the number of veterinary staff and improved coverage to ensure we are resilient in the face of threats.
Earlier this year, we experienced the wettest winter in nearly 250 years. Our flood defences were battered by months of heavy rain. It is critical that those who work the land are involved in the solution, and that is why we are supporting Internal Drainage Boards and making it easier for farmers and landowners to play a role. We have protected frontline flood staff at the Environment Agency and increased our capital investment in flood defences. We are spending £3.2bn in this parliament compared to £2.7bn in the previous parliament, and have also set an unprecedented six-year capital spend commitment right up to 2021.
With the right approach we can continue to be at the forefront of global developments and ensure that in the years ahead we maintain our resilience, improve our natural environment and grow our food.
Elizabeth Truss is Environment Secretary and Conservative MP for South West Norfolk
The nationally protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in my constituency, and the irreplaceable natural heritage within it, are at risk of being destroyed and lost forever as a result of the planned construction of the current HS2 Phase One route between London and Birmingham.
Despite pledges from the Prime Minister that the Coalition would be the ‘greenest government ever’ and the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper in 2011 stating that AONBs are ‘national treasures’, the Chilterns AONB and our rural inheritance are under threat from an expensive HS2 project with a very weak business case.
The AONB is of national importance to the UK. It includes irreplaceable ancient woodland sites, ancient monuments, and a diverse woodland wildlife community. As a major tourist attraction, it is a site of considerable economic value to UK plc. Indeed, in 2007 just over 55m leisure visits (worth around £500m) were made to and within the Chilterns AONB, sustaining around 12,000 jobs and 500 businesses.
However, the Chilterns is the only AONB along the entire HS2 Phase One and Phase Two route that is adversely and significantly impacted by the proposed project. The design of the proposed route takes no account of the designated landscape of the AONB or the protective provisions of Part IV of the CROW Act 2000; and the route travels through the AONB at its broadest point. Under current proposals, only half of the line as it passes through the AONB will be in a bored tunnel. This means 10.4km of the route will be on the surface, causing significant and damaging environmental impacts.
As the HS2 Phase One Hybrid Bill select committee process gathers pace, I urge the Government and HS2 to reconsider the treatment of the nationally protected Chilterns AONB and accept proposals for a full continuous tunnel that would fully protect the entire AONB from the current HS2 route.
These proposals have even been accepted by HS2 Ltd engineers as practical engineering solutions and a more suitable environmental solution for the AONB. Indeed, the Government’s own Environmental Statement report in 2013 noted that the continuous tunnel proposals were feasible in engineering terms, and would perform better on environmental grounds compared with the current HS2 line route.
The continuous tunnel proposals are supported by parliamentarians from all sides of the House, and all local councils and action groups within the Chilterns AONB. Furthermore, the National Trust and English Tourist Board have highlighted the importance of the AONB and the need to consider all serious mitigation options to ensure the Chilterns are protected from the current HS2 route.
Like me, all these bodies have the protection and sustainability of the Chilterns at the heart of their missions. As stewards of our natural heritage, it is vital that we care for these special places on behalf of future generations. That is why I believe that a full, continuous tunnel through the Chilterns is the only option that best protects and safeguards the entire AONB and our rural inheritance from the current HS2 route.
Cheryl Gillan is Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham
Words: Paul Waugh and Daniel Bond
Photos: Paul Heartfield
“The 18th century is the period I feel really at home in…” William Hague says, as he sits back on the sofa in his Commons office. Instantly realising how otherworldly his words may sound, he swiftly adds “…apart from our own 21st century!”
The Leader of the House can’t help chuckling at his self-assessment, which is based more on his love of political history than a fondness for powdered wigs. But he’s deadly serious about the traditions of both Parliament and the Conservative party, and the need to connect both of them to the modern day.
And as he prepares for his final conference as a frontline politician next week, Hague is reflecting on his own long political history. It was in Blackpool in 1977, of course, where he first rose to national attention as a blonde-haired, Yorkshire-vowelled 16-year-old, taking to the stage to warn of the perils of a Conservative defeat in the next election. “And where would this country be if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t taken my good advice?” the now 53-year-old Hague jokes, that mix of intellectual confidence and self-deprecating humour undimmed all this time later.
In the preceding 37 years, Hague has given an “extraordinary number” of speeches to conference and, while he plays down any suggestion of sentimentality – “I’m not a big one for getting emotional, I have to say” – his final address this Sunday afternoon will hold a little more significance. And he hints that it will certainly have a different feel; rather than the usual frontbench conference speech, Hague will instead use his to make an impassioned wider argument for the merits of the party political system itself.
“One of the things in my mind is that in that 37 years, 26 of them in Parliament, I’ve worked in so many areas and achieved some things – failed in other things – you know, the Disability Discrimination Act that I did in 1995, things I did as Welsh Secretary, the efforts to revitalise the party after the defeat of 1997, all the work in the Foreign Office the last four years. But the Conservative party has been the vehicle for all of that,” he explains. “I am, in that sense, a tribal politician; I believe in a major political party as a vehicle for what individuals can achieve in their careers, as well as an expression of the instincts and wishes of a large part of the country. So it will be a moment for me to explain that, to try to explain to other people who will come in the future what you can still achieve through a political party.”
A party of individuals with “many differences of opinion and emphasis” is “very healthy”, he insists. “But you still need well-functioning and highly organised political parties for democracy to work well. The Conservative party is still the essential vehicle. At conference I want to make that argument.”
And when it comes to the issue which has most tested those differences of opinion, Europe, Hague urges his colleagues to go into the General Election next year with a united message. Several MPs have indicated they are preparing to campaign in May with a pledge to take the UK ‘out’ in an ‘in/out’ EU referendum in 2017, no matter what the outcome of any David Cameron-led renegotiation. But Hague warns against fracturing the party’s core message at the wrong time.
“On the main issues of a general election, it is of course much more effective for Members to clearly express the same view,” he says, pointedly. “And here the argument is that we need a referendum. Yes, people can go into different scenarios, but it’s very important not to be distracted from the Conservative party’s main argument, which is we will deliver, and guarantee delivering, a referendum. So I would recommend to colleagues not to get distracted. One of the big decisions at the general election is 'are we going to have a referendum on Europe'. We have to win the argument for that, not argue in advance about which way we’re going to vote in that referendum.”
But what about Bob Neill’s private member’s bill seeking to enshrine an in/out vote in law this side of May? While Hague says the Conservative leadership will “do our best” to fight for the bill’s passage, he’s realistic about its chances in the face of Lib Dem and Labour opposition. “You have to be cynical about the tactics that they will use,” he says. “They will use every possible tactic to use up time. And it’s difficult of course for a private member’s bill to get through against any significant opposition. We saw that last time.”
Would the Prime Minister be ready to use the Parliament Act if necessary? “Yes,” Hague replies, “but we have to get it to that position. And that means getting through some hoops in the House of Commons that we’re not yet through.”
Those legislative hoops may be giving some Conservative planners a headache over the Referendum Bill, but, when it comes to navigating the intricacies and complexities of parliamentary procedure, Hague himself is a self-confessed ‘nerd’ – and appears to be relishing being back in the thick of things.
“I’m one of those people who has that sort of mind – a slightly nerdish mind – for procedures and timings. I’m really comfortable with that,” he says. “I’m really enjoying being back into parliamentary procedure.”
After close to nine years on the Foreign Office brief in opposition and in government, Hague – long considered one of the great parliamentarians of his generation – is clearly glad to be back in the Palace of Westminster full-time. “I’ve always loved Parliament. And to be able, in this final stage of my political career, to spend this time here, mixing with the other MPs, lunching with them in the tea room – which is what I now do on a daily basis when the House is sitting – that’s very enjoyable, and quite refreshing for me.
“Of course, it’s quite a contrast, an enjoyable contrast; instead of moving around the world every day, I’m moving around Parliament. And for me there’s a sort of satisfying symmetry to it. I feel I built my political career in Parliament and campaigning around the country. And for this final stage I’ve come back to where I started to do the best I can at the very end.”
There may be only six months left until the dissolution of this parliament, but the new Leader of the House is not ready to take it easy yet. And while he admits the “big” reforms of this session – the introduction of elected Committee chairs and the creation of the Backbench Business Committee – are already in place, he’s clear there is more to be done to strengthen the House before May, and particularly to open it up to more public involvement. When the Youth Parliament sits for its next session in November, he will attend and speak. “I’ll be very proud”, he says, adding: “37 years ago I would have been one of them!” And while he has not seen any “specific proposals” to introduce some public element to Prime Minister’s Questions – as mooted by Ed Miliband – Hague says he would be “open” to looking at the idea. “I am in favour of more public involvement in Westminster. I don’t write it off at all.”
But where Hague believes real progress can be made before the election is in the use and expansion of e-petitions. “I think it would be great if in the next few months we could really make permanent and agree some of the arrangements for the future on this; to give Parliament greater ownership of it, and build it further into the modern political culture of the country,” he explains.
And as a keen scholar of the 18th century, Hague’s enthusiasm for the reform is naturally grounded in history. “In the campaign against the slave trade it was the great petitions, the only way then for most people of the country – most people didn’t have the vote – it was the sheer weight of these petitions from around the country that was the public’s engagement with Parliament. In recent decades, petitions have been seen as a bit of an anachronistic thing; people sign something, it goes in the bag at the back of the Speaker’s chair, and the Government issues a reply that no one particularly looks at.
“Now they are coming to life again; they are related again, at last, to whether something is debated on the floor of the House. And I think the system needs strengthening so that Parliament will have greater ownership of it, and it will be a stronger instrument of holding governments to account.”
The other big debate over parliamentary reform still to come is the Government’s Recall Bill. The plans have been met with scepticism from a number of MPs, with Zac Goldsmith warning last week it would still be “almost impossible” under the bill for voters to remove errant MPs. Chief Whip Michael Gove is understood to be speaking to disgruntled backbenchers about possible ways to strengthen the proposals. Is there scope for further improvements?
“This is a government bill, and government whips in both parties will be asking MPs to support it. Of course, it is a bill where there will be a lively debate about various amendments to it. And the Government will listen to people’s points of view – there isn’t a single golden answer on recall,” he replies, appearing to leave the door open to further change. “But taking all views into account and all options into account, we have produced what we think is best, which is the bill we’ve published, and we will argue for that. That will be quite a significant change. So this is an institution that is reforming. And I do hope I can use my long career in frontline politics to strengthen overall the reputation of this institution as one that is prepared to reform itself.”
Of course, the fallout from the Scottish independence referendum means that constitutional reform is now very much on the agenda at Westminster. Interviewed before the result, Hague is wary of giving any official government view, but it’s clear where his own sympathies lie. Asked if it is now inevitable that there will be a clamour for Scots MPs to be barred from voting on non-Scots tax matters, he replies: “Of course there are very legitimate points that are being made about the position of England or England and Wales, when Parliament is considering matters relating only to England and Wales. While not commenting at the moment on what the Government collectively will decide about this, if you go back to my 2001 election campaign I campaigned for what we then called ‘English votes on English laws’. That has always been my previous position: devolution will ultimately have important consequences for how Parliament worked and that we’d reserve some matters for English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, and in some cases English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. So I come at it from that direction, [that] is one thing I can say.”
Hague stresses that while all three main parties agree on the process for more Scottish devolution, they have not yet decided the content. “Depending on the content of that, there will be completely legitimate and important considerations about how we then ensure our democratic procedures are fair to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” he says. Does he have a sneaking sympathy then for John Redwood’s claim that the ‘slumbering lion’ of English devolution may now wake up? “I advocated important change on this in 2001,” he says again. “But the policy is one that I and the PM will settle with our colleagues after the referendum, and I can’t prejudge that.”
In fact, Hague’s record on the issue stems back even further. In 1997 he warned that Labour’s devolution plans would “slowly, inevitably” lead to “tensions within the UK”. Does he stand by that?
“I was right! In 1997 I argued that the establishment of a Scottish parliament would lead to demands for independence. And the argument at that time of the Labour leadership, I think the phrase used was ‘it would kill demands for independence stone dead’ [George Robertson uttered the memorable phrase]. And our analysis, those of us who opposed devolution then, was the correct one. That is now very clear.
“Now we are democrats, so when the referendum went very heavily in favour of a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly, narrowly, it was also the right decision to try to make that work. It would have been a rather undemocratic and out-of-touch stance to say ‘well, we are not participating in it’. We have to work with what democracy produces. But we were right in 1997.”
The Commons has also faced calls to reform its own internal affairs of late, in the wake of the row over the next Clerk of the House. Hague wasn’t on the recruitment panel or Commons Commission and stresses: “I’m not going to say anything that makes it harder for all involved to resolve this matter.”
But he does favour a “forward-looking” solution. “I do think it’s very important that Members have complete confidence in whoever is giving advice as the Clerk, in terms of constitutional, procedural advice, and that they can do so without fear or favour. I also think it’s very important, as we come up to immense decisions about the restoration and renewal of this building, that everybody has confidence that it is run in the most efficient way.”
Given this emphasis on MPs having confidence in procedural advice and on efficient running of the building, is he in favour of splitting the two roles? “Don’t assume… Both those things have to happen, but there are various different ways you can do that. Yes, there are arguments for splitting the roles, but the previous reports into this subject always come out against that, partly on grounds of not creating institutionalised conflict. It will be very important in any solution not to have competing and conflicting posts created. So how you reconcile that, this is up to the Select Committee, it’s up to the House.”
As well as being Leader of the Commons and First Secretary of State, Hague also retains his place on the National Security Council. Having seen the Vladimir Putin regime up close as Foreign Secretary, he believes Russia’s actions in Ukraine require a firm diplomatic and economic response. The West will have to prepare for a “different state of relations” with Moscow over the next decade, he says. “This is a new, 21st-century form of state-on-state hostility…a new form of how to invade or violate another nation. And that means that our response to that has to be brought up to date.”
He also retains an interest in two of his personal initiatives at the Foreign Office: preventing sexual violence in conflict and the illegal wildlife trade. Reminders exist in the shape of photos of him and John Kerry and Angelina Jolie, plus a carved wooden rhino, all brought from his FCO office to their new Commons home.
Hague is particularly proud of the global summit he organised with Jolie’s help and is pleased with some progress since (a special fringe meeting on the subject is planned for party conference). Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia have recently adapted their military training to highlight the issue of rape and exploitation in conflict zones. “Of course this does not mean that this has yet changed the situation on the ground, but it is that vital next step of governments around the world starting to take action themselves. So we will keep up our work, pushing it forward.”
Still, what did he make of the way some newspapers described him as ‘Hollywood Hague’ and ‘starstruck’ when he was photographed with Jolie and Brad Pitt this summer? “I do have a very thick skin,” he smiles. “I’m not influenced by these things. And in a way, unless there is some criticism of what you do, there is no edge to it. This was a groundbreaking summit, it gave hope I think to millions of people in the world and nothing will ever put me off doing that sort of work.”
As a lifelong member of the World Wide Fund for Nature, another passion is his campaign to tackle the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. He still chairs the ministerial group on the issue, and intends to keep working on both campaigns after he leaves the Commons next year. “As with just about everything else about life after May, while I do have in my head the areas I want to work on and I’m very excited about that, I haven’t entered into any arrangement with anybody and I won’t for some time,” he says.
One big change from the FCO is that he now gets to see wife Ffion much more. “She’s not pushed me into my decision about bringing to an end my career in the House of Commons, but she’s very pleased that now we can spend more time together and that is part of the reason.”
After his hectic schedule as Foreign Secretary, the prospect of taking up a new post as EU Commissioner or Nato Secretary General didn’t appeal. “To go and live in Brussels, while my wife has a business in London, would just not be my idea of improving the quality of life,” he says. “So really my decision is to do something that isn’t a fixed job. To do all the things I’ve always wanted to do.”
Lest anyone think that he’s putting his feet up between now and May, Hague points out he will combine his Commons duties with a new role campaigning around the country “as energetically as I ever have”. “I will be going round the marginal seats; I will be giving a lot of my time to the party and to the campaign between now and 7 May.”
Once the election is over, he will properly set about sorting life after the Commons. With acclaimed books on Pitt (William, that is, not Brad) and Wilberforce under his belt, is he planning to write another biography? “I will certainly write. I haven’t yet discussed with any publisher or agent what I will write, but I’m sure it will include history. I might write about my own experiences, although I can’t see me writing a long, dry memoir. I haven’t worked out how to do that. So these are areas I’m looking forward to tackling, but I will sit down after May and start to make a detailed plan.”
In the corner of his office, a bust of Pitt the Younger looks on impassively at the Leader of the House as he talks of his exit strategy. It prompts the thought: didn’t Pitt once step down only to make a comeback three years later? “Yes, and it killed him as well,” Hague deadpans. “I will not be following his illustrious example…”
HAGUE ON…PARLIAMENT’S REPUTATION
“This is one of the great institutions in this country and the world. Perhaps the greatest of all our democratic institutions. It needs strengthening and improving – but it needs understanding and to be cherished”
HAGUE ON…MORE EARLY COMMONS SITTINGS
“Personally I would be sceptical. I think further bringing forward the hours of the House, in my experience as a minister, would make it quite difficult for Government and Parliament to both get their work done during the day. So we have to bear that in mind – you can’t fill up all the, what are regarded, as normal office hours with Parliament sitting.”
HAGUE ON …RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
“[After the 2008 Russian conflict in Georgia]…Europe went back to readily to business as usual. We do have to be ready for a different state of relations with Russia now in the next decade. We hope that is not a prematurely hostile state of relations. But it’s different, and we have to understand what has happened.”
HAGUE ON...LIFE AFTER THE FCO
“This the first summer I’ve been able to read one or two books and catch up with life a little bit. Although I remain very busy.”
HAGUE ON…STAYING ON THE NSC
“It can be useful in the National Security Council to have a minister who has experience but does not have a departmental agenda or departmental brief in the meeting.”