One Bank Flagship Seminar - Lord Hague

Lord Hague will be in conversation with our Chief Economist Andy Haldane

About the event

Date: Wednesday 2 October 2019
Time: 12:00 - 13:00
Venue: The Bank of England Conference Centre

Former Conservative Party Leader and Member of Parliament, Lord Hague of Richmond will be in conversation with Andy Haldane on 2 October at 12pm. This event will be available to view live on this webpage. 

The Rt Hon the Lord Hague served as Member of Parliament for Richmond for 26 years and has been a prominent political figure ever since, serving as Leader of the Conservative Party and as Foreign Secretary, before concluding his political career as First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons.

He led the negotiating team that created coalition government in 2010 and then, over four years as Foreign Secretary, he dealt with a turbulent period encompassing wars in Libya and Syria, withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Ukraine crisis, the struggle against terrorism and relations with Europe. He was also responsible for two of Britain's intelligence agencies, and visited more countries than any Foreign Secretary in history. 

He continues with his humanitarian work, including the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative which he co-founded with Angelina Jolie, and work to combat the illegal trade in wildlife for The Royal Foundation. He is an accomplished historian, author of two bestsellers and winner of the History Book of the Year Award, for his biography of William Pitt the Younger.

  • Andy Haldane: Right welcome everyone to this this special flagship seminar and to a very special guest Lord Hague, William Hague known to all of you. Lord Hague one of the most prominent politicians of the past 40 years, and it is 40 years William because

    William Hague: Yes

    Andy Haldane: You kicked off way back in, at the conservative conference in 77 as a 16 year old

    William Hague: Right

    Andy Haldane: Watch the YouTube video if you haven't seen it already when you memorably tell the audience half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years’ time [laughter].

    William Hague: some of them are still there [laughter].

    Andy Haldane: which was the Greta Thumberg moment of the 1970s I think. You went on to read PP at Oxford where you’re President of both the Conservative Association and the Union I think

    William Hague: mm-hmm 

    Andy Haldane Then an MBA then McKinsey's then into Parliament in 1989.  I think at the time the youngest Tory MP in Richmond in North Yorkshire which is also William’s home County. You remained MP in Richmond right up until 2015, re-elected five times, before stepping down in 2015 and taking up the life peerage as Lord Haig of Richmond. So during that time at Westminster I mean your career was notable in fact I'd say remarkable for its richness and for its diversity. I mean your roles included Secretary of State for Wales between 95 and 97, Leader of course of the Opposition between 97 and 2001, Foreign Secretary and de-facto Deputy Leader Prime Minister between 2010 and 2014 as part of the coalition government, and then leader of the Commons in 2014 / 2015. I mean during that time you establish yourself very clearly. Your reputation at the dispatch box as one of the most accomplished and indeed funniest speakers of your generation. Your time as Foreign Secretary was notable for all sorts of things but including the huge efforts you made to expand the UK's international reach. New embassies in Latin America and Africa, expanding our presence in India and China as they emerged. And visiting I think more than 80 countries in your spell in office which is pretty remarkable. I think the word statesman is probably often used but all too rarely practiced right now but it really has been a hallmark of your career, both in and outside of politics.

    William Hague: this is marvellous you could do my biography [laughter].

    Andy Haldane: I was hoping. And amongst all that, as if that wasn’t enough, William has written two widely acclaimed, indeed prize-winning, biographies. Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce. He launched, you’ll remember, with Angelina Jolie, the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative under the UN's auspices, and that kind of continues that theme of yours from the very earliest days I think, your interest in human rights issues. You somehow in amongst that managed to find the time to learn to play the piano. And last but no means least, and I imagine the pinnacle of your career, was that you hosted ‘Have I Got News for You’ [laughter]. Since you left Parliament 2015 you'd be unsurprised to hear William is not being, he's still being really active. Among his current roles are chairing the United for Wildlife Taskforce which tackles the trafficking of illegal wildlife products, and also chairing the Royal United Services Institute, which is a defence and security think tank. He also, William is Director of ICE, Intercontinental Exchange and Chair of the ICE Futures Europe subsidiary. I have to confess you and I, you didn't know this, have one very tiny thing in common and it's this. I was up in Sheffield last year giving a talk, it was actually a dinner talk, afternoon talk, and afterwards David Blunkett came up to me and said, he said Andy, when you were talking up there you sounded just like William Hague [laughter].

    William Hague: but the hair is a giveaway [laughter].

    Andy Haldane: But I was thrilled you know given that your reputation precedes you as a politician, I was over the moon. I said what was it David about what I said that made me sound like Lord Hague. And he said well you and he pronounce vowels in just the same way.

    William Hague: Right.

    Andy Haldane: I said was that it. He said oh yes, just that, just that. Because William of course is the most brilliant afternoon speaker that exists in in Parliament, now. I’m just about getting over this now and I thought I'd invite you in today so we can all hear first-hand just what David was talking about. So please join me in welcoming to the Bank William Hague. [applause] 

    William Hague: Very nice. So yes we say grass not grass

    Andy Haldane: we say grass not bath. Bath not bath. I want to take you back more than 48. I want to take you back to that Tory Party conference in 77.

    William Hague: Yes.

    Andy Haldane: Back then as a as a 16 year old what were your aspirations your ambitions back then, for you, and for the whole country actually.

    William Hague: Well my aspiration was to get to the top in politics you know there was some point when I was about 13 years old when I stopped playing with toy soldiers and decided, no I think I'll be Prime Minister rather than a [inaudible], and therefore you know get involved, go to meetings, it was easy to become chairman of the Young Conservatives in Rotherham because nobody else, [laughter] you know went to the Annual General Meeting, nobody else showed up. So that gave me a ticket to Party conference and then I thought well I'll get up and tell them what to do. I mean excessively overconfident really I didn't know enough to be frightened in a way. But I was also motivated by, and I think there's a parallel with young people getting involved in politics today, of whom there are a lot by the way, you know this is something you might want to come back to, the future of politics, by the fact it was such a turbulent time. You know it was an arresting time because, does this sound familiar, we had two general elections and an EU referendum in two years. In 1974 1975. It gets your attention if you're a politically interested young person so I had a political motivation. I was on the, you know the Thatcher right side of politics, particularly living in South Yorkshire where it seemed like it was a dead end really of nationalized industries and local authority housing and so on. And a personal motivation that this was going to be my chosen career. And I always tell people that 80% of success is showing up. You know it is it's easier than you think. In politics to get to a certain point. It's not easy at the very top cause then you're in the most highly competitive environment but it's much easier than you think to get into our political system. You can actually show up, be welcomed, and within a couple of years be doing all sorts of things and responsible for many things in a political party. People think our political system is more mysterious than it is.

    Andy Haldane: That's a very interesting message and would you today be encouraging of young people to get involved politically. That could be at a grassroots level or it could be seeking to end up in Westminster.

    William Hague: Well I do encourage it because we do need, as you might have noticed, we need some good people to come along. And the good news is there are lots of good, the most heartening experience you could have in politics is meeting teenagers and students who are interested in politics. You know when I was leader of the House of Commons in my last year we had the Youth Parliament to come and sit in the House of Commons. 500 elected 17 year-olds came and sat in the actual chamber of the House of Commons and I was the only MP, I and the speaker you know, and I gave them a speech of welcome and then I listened to them all for a few hours. And this was far more heartening than listening to the actual members of Parliament you know [laughter]. They were better behaved, better dressed, more polite and more thoughtful on the whole, and I'm not exaggerating. So that is very, that's very heartening. So I do encourage that although they have to know that it is a single-minded business you know if you're going to go into politics you have to be ready to lead a life that is 99% politics. It is an all-consuming affair. It is your entire way of life. How you spend your weekends. How you know, even on a Saturday night, you'll be giving a political speech on a Sunday morning, you will be on Andrew Marr you, will be. There are no gaps it is a continuous thing and so that's not necessarily everybody's cup of tea but if you're ready for that it's more accessible than it looks.

    Andy Haldane: Just on that point about the all-consuming nature of it though. I mean one striking feature of your political career, and this goes, this is almost a throwback to politicians of your, is that you've managed you managed to intersperse the politics, the daily grind, with commercial matters interest in business, civil society matters interest in charity. You know you've had that hinterland yourself. Tell us a bit more about the importance of that hinterland for getting some perspective on the on the day job on the politics.

    William Hague: Yes well it's important to have another career. I also say this to any young person going to politics, you have to have a way of earning a living because you're going into a totally unpredictable thing. You can lose your seat at any time and so you can't rely on a political career. You do have to have some other skill in life that you can fall back on. In my case that was you know as you say I did my MBA I went to McKinsey I really loved the business world so I've always had something that was almost as interesting and exciting to me as the political world. And that, but then there's another aspect of having a hinterland which I only discovered when I was 40 by force really you know. I lost the 2001 election to Tony Blair and that was when I suddenly realised there were a lot of other things in life. That you didn't have to be consumed by all this, you do if you're at the top of politics, but the moment you step out of it the rest of the world that all seemed monochrome, became coloured. Suddenly there was art and music and you know all sorts of activities. And that's, that's why I left again four years ago. But as it turned out rather fortuitously from my own point of view… left. There's so many other things to do in life. I admire people like Ken Clark who want to go on you know as an MP forever and make a big contribution. But I'm not like that. Now I'm into wildlife and I've planted 6,000 trees so far at my home and I like to buy land from farmers and turn it into woods instead, they all think I'm mad, but I think this is the way the world has to go and that's my new passion. So it just depends on your personality. Are you so obsessed with politics that you will go on to the bitter end or do you say well now’s a good time to get out and I'm gonna do all the other things I want to do in life.

    Andy Haldane: And you mentioned after 2001, and one of the things towards which you turned was writing …

    William Hague: mm-hmm

    Andy Haldane: …and the biographies. So what was the thinking there. I mean was it sort of a fascination with the subjects? Was it a sense of wanting a bit more historical perspective on how, what was the kind of motivation there?

    William Hague: I love writing really and, and reading you know and so I like writing even more than speaking. My career was in speaking but really I love telling a story, telling a historical story in a way that makes it like a novel because history is as exciting as a novel. What I really adore, you know, the story and the book I wrote on William Pitt the year 1797, which is the year of the run on the Bank of England and all of that, the absolute crisis of Pitt as Prime Minister then, you know, is as thrilling as anything, as any fiction, and so I find it very satisfying to try to bring that to life and understand what was happening in a, in a different age and to write about that. My plan, if I have a plan, I think we should all be ready to be flexible about our personal plans, but if I have a plan it’s in a few years’ time I will increasingly be sitting writing more eighteenth-century books about the 18th century using that particular skill.

    Andy Haldane: Who's next? Can you reveal who’s next?

    William Hague: No I don't know who’s, I'm so busy at the moment with the issues of the present and I write a weekly column in The Daily Telegraph so, so buy it on Tuesdays if you don't buy any other day [laughter]. So one day a week I write at least a thousand words so the next quarter of a million words, but it would be the 18th early 19th century because that period is the, is so close you can reach out and touch it you know, you can sit at a desk that they sat at, you probably do [laughter].

    Andy Haldane: [coughing] this is me choking.

    William Hague: You can touch the wall you can visualise their work, you can read their letters, you can drink from their glass whatever, and yet it's just before the steam train, the telegraph communication, that's just at the moment, it’s still at the time where news can only travel at the speed of a horse or a ship and that's so different from ours. So it's radically different, it's the end of the old world but it's close enough that you can feel, you can still touch it and understand it. So as opposed to a medieval period where you can't reach out and touch it, it's harder to visualise it then, that's why I'm so fascinated with that particular bit of history.

    Andy Haldane: Yep. And you mentioned the, alongside the writing, the speaking which is another of the things which you are most noteworthy, how did that, were you always good at this, I mean of interest real interest to us I think the kind of public communication aspect of the job is crucial for us as you know. For you personally were you just always good at it, were you always confident doing it or have you been…

    William Hague: As with anything you have trial and error and the thing is to get going you know so.  I was very fortunate I went to a comprehensive school in Rotherham. But comprehensive schools can mean a vast range of things, and at my school in Rotherham I was speaking in public from the age of 13 really on a regular basis. You know there was a religious discussion group that I went to, not because I was interested in religion but because it was an opportunity to debate and then there was a debating society that I spoke in every week, and then there was a Yorkshire television public speaking competition and there was a teacher sufficiently interested in me to say I'm gonna take you to that and then I won it. So by the time I arrived at the Conservative conferences at 16 I was able to, and I knew nobody, didn't know a soul, but I was and that's the other thing by the way, it's not connections that get you on in politics or anything, you can turn up knowing nobody and you can get to the top. I was able to write on a little piece of paper I'd like to speak on the economy, as a sixteen year old, and by the way I've just won the Yorkshire television public speaker competition. So they knew that the person looking this piece of paper thought well obviously he's not going to be a catastrophe because he has won that. So it's like anything once you've done it thousands of times you do. There's no such thing as somebody who can just stand up and give, whatever, whatever praiseworthy speech. Even the sixteen-year-old who arrives at the conference had three years of debating and doing televised speeches before arriving at the conference so like anything you have to put in the hours to, to get good at it.

    Andy Haldane: And when you were across the despatch-box from Tony Blair. I mean how much of that, I mean your performances at the time were lauded, how much of that was not scripted but had you thought about in advance, these are the lines I want to deliver, and how much of that was 

    William Hague: Well a lot yes. Well it varied but a lot you know. There was a sort of arms race that went on in Prime Minister's Questions which is, I used to prepare for it more than people have done before. And then there was a leaked memo from number ten in 1999 with Tony Blair sending sort of help, you know, and bring in more advisors. And he used to have killer facts, the leaked memo said I need killer facts to deal with Hague. And then I used to have anti killer-facts [laughter] so it is like a military [inaudible], and we were both spending more and more time preparing for Prime Minister's Questions. And, and of course some things that you do just come up with spontaneously in the heat of it, other things of course were I used to taunt him with things like you know if he was having such problems with the London Mayor he could have had Frank Dobson as his day mayor and Ken Livingstone as his nightmare [laughter]. I used to have lots of one-liners like that, we used to make him laugh which would then disorientate him that was the idea [laughter], and those are all prepared of course.  That was me sitting, every Wednesday morning I would sit with Danny Finkelstein, now himself Columnist and Associate Editor at The Times, and George Osborne who was my speechwriter, and Seb Coe who was my Chief of Staff.  That was the group, we used to just think of crazy things we used to, by having completely lateral thinking about Prime Minister's Questions we would actually come up with a serious line of argument but the process of the lateral thinking would have generated all these wisecracks. A now of course you know what this really means about politics looking back on it when you think of politics today, Tony Blair and I weren't really arguing about very much. We were all that heat for four years, some angry exchanges over the despatch-box, really I was saying that taxes should be fractionally lower [laughter] and spending a few billion lower, but nothing too drastic, and I was saying we shouldn't join the euro and he was saying we're not joining it anyway [laughter]. And that was it and so this is how politics has changed. We were both arguing around the centre of politics and everybody thought this is how what modern politics had become like. You only won an election in the centre and so, really most people in the country could tune out which they did, it was terrible time to be leader of the Opposition because everything was fine, they're just arguing about nothing really. When you think now of the difference between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn well you are, you can't begin to decide, it’s like they've come from different planets. And Tony Blair and I would now be on the same side of nearly every question and we used to be the archenemies. So politics has changed an enormous amount since then.

    Andy Haldane: To what extent has that change though just a mirror image of the change societally? Because it strikes me you, back then when it was you and Tony Blair across the despatch-box, but wasn't within the wider public a big mood of needing to change things.

    William Hague: mm-hmm

    Andy Haldane: And that may itself have changed over the last 20  years or so. People are now wanting to affect some change and in some ways we see that in referenda we see that more generally. And, to what extent to what's happening in Westminster just the flipside of the mood in the country of the appetite for change do you think?

    William Hague: Well it, politics is a reflection of the country you know. It is that way round and the positions of political parties is a response to the mood they are [inaudible] to bigger forces going on.  That's why you see similar forces in most democratic countries at the moment that have fragmented politics in the great majority of, of the democracy of the Western democracies, and created populist movements. And there is, it's quite different from the end of the 1990s where really we had reached famously you know, the end the politics, the end of history. Liberalism, liberalism of our economic and social liberalism was it, it was the only thing left in the world. Marxism and communism and Nazism, fascism had all gone and we're really, well, left with one great consensus. And of course what we've seen in the 20 years since then is that has broken down, and instead of being left with one, we're possibly left with none. As a governing philosophy, as a triumphant philosophy, hence the current scrambling, the disorientation of voters, the fragmentation [inaudible] are scrambling for new lines of arguments and philosophies.

    Andy Haldane: Can I ask you about leadership. That you assumed the mantle of leadership very early on in your career but you became Opposition Leader, what at 36?

    William Hague: Mm-hmm.

    Andy Haldane: Which is still the youngest ever I guess.

    William Hague: Yes.

    Andy Haldane: And a number of leadership positions throughout the period since, what would be your reflections having, having lived it, having observed it in others over that span. You know what are the core ingredients? What will be your, your learnings for us about how to do this well?

    William Hague: I think the main point which I wish I'd known at the beginning is that values are more important than strategy. Strategy changes as you go along, it should change of course because the circumstances change. A good General is constantly changing their strategy, you know, the Duke of Wellington whose statue is outside, arguably our greatest general in history, would become every day adapting his strategy. So there’s no point expecting him to be constantly respected for the same approach to everything. Values are what people can associate you with rather than your strategy, and I was thinking when I was Leader of the Opposition, what is my strategy for defeating Tony Blair, obviously I never came up with it [laughter]. I should have been thinking, what are the values everybody's going to associate with me because they actually understand the strategy changes. And you, you can see this all the more, if you think of our most, of our most successful political leaders or businesses for that matter, they do generate a respect for their constant values whatever those are whether you agree with them or not you know. Why was Margaret Thatcher so successful? Why did Jeremy Corbyn do so well at the last general election unexpectedly? Well maybe because he did at least get across what his values were even if people thought lots of other things were complete nonsense. I'm not gonna I mustn’t get party political at an event at the Bank of England but you know what I mean, I'm trying to show it happens on both sides of politics. Why does Donald Trump get so much support in America even though his standards of behaviour are completely different from everything we've previously thought was acceptable. Well it's because somewhere between a third and a half the people in America will forgive him anything because he's got their values. And everything that he says or does reinforces that so it doesn't matter what goes wrong or whether he builds a wall or whether he you know what the effect of his policies on China and so on. As long as he's reinforcing, he's a guy who's got my values, then he's still got all that support. And I think this is particularly as we as we seem to have moved to politics that is more about identity and less about refinements of economic policy, well that becomes even more important that a successful leader has to be known for their value. But I think it's true for an institution or a, or a company as well

    Andy Haldane: Yeah, yeah. No the importance of I mean you might use the word for an organizational purpose rather than values but it's the same idea.

    William Hague: Yes, yes

    Andy Haldane: I mean for us our purpose was written in our Royal Charter, 1694 which was to serve the public basically. It was only five years ago we adjusted that down actually when Mark arrived, a restatement of our purpose which is written there …

    William Hague: Right

    Andy Haldane: … way back when. Do you miss politics?

    William Hague: No not at all. No I very

    Andy Haldane: A little bit, you must miss

    William Hague: No 

    Andy Haldane: This time of [inaudible]

    William Hague: Well [inaudible] I can still interfere [laughter]. So when I, when I want to I can go down to the House of Lords and give a speech which I'm intending to in a couple of weeks if and when there is an opening of a new session of Parliament. And because I write every week in the newspaper, in the newspaper that is most read by the governing party, I can say what I want and ministers call me up and ask for, what would you do in this situation, so I can do it, so I don't think, I haven't actually gone to another world. But I don't miss it for two reasons.  One is that, I don't like the nastiness and bitterness and divisiveness of it now. You know for me the high point was the coalition government. I, I was the  chairman of the Conservative negotiating team that settled the, all the terms of the coalition in 2010 with the Liberal Democrats, and I think that was quite a successful government by historical standards. And it showed actually people could work together of different, and have a wholly viable program of government. So I really don't like the, I'm glad I'm not mixed up in this vitriolic style of politics at the moment. But also I don't miss it because I'm doing, I'm having the most fun, the most satisfaction of any time of life now in the range of things I do, in the private sector and the charitable and educational things that I do. So, but have a lot of freedom doing it so I really don't miss it. And all my old colleagues in government say, bump into me and say you're looking well and I say yes because I'm not hanging out with you lot anymore [laughter], and I've moved on to other things so I know I do not miss it at all.

    Andy Haldane: You mentioned about you know where we are right now, the tectonic shifts politically, societally. Can I ask you to just put your historian hat on rather than your politician hat on for a second. So what will the historians, 30, 40, 50, years hence you think, be writing about this moment in history? Will this be seen as being just one of those things you know a, a temporary period of turbulence you know around some pivotal decisions? Or will it mark some more sizeable shift in the plate atomics of politics and indeed the society perhaps.

    William Hague: Well I think it does mark a bigger shift. I think historians in some future century will say you know, when they're writing about our lifetime so far, the last 40, 50 years will say, well three things happened, since they won't be able to describe everything. They will think what were the main things that happened? Three things really have happened in our lifetime and everything else is a spinoff really. The Cold War ended. China arose and the information revolution began. And arguably every other thing has some side effects of those things, even the financial crisis. And now the, what we don't know is whether they will say those things together produced the world crisis of the 21st century, or are they gonna say those things produced all sorts of turbulence that was managed somehow through the 21st century. That is the big imponderable but I think that is the, those three things are the stories so far of our lifetimes and everything else we’ve all done is, I'm sorry to say, is a little footnote attached to those three things.

    Andy Haldane: And I'll go to the audience for some questions in a second but a couple last ones from, from me if I may. Coming close to here to home to the Bank of England, public institution. You mentioned the global financial crisis which will be the testing period for us over the period since as you know, and as you've written about. Would you have any observations, lessons, advice for us as a public institution, serving the public in this challenging environment, you know economically, politically, socially.

    William Hague: Well I think, I I don't presume to have, well you’re all sitting here thinking about the institution and how it’s regarded, and as far as I can see, from what I know you're doing, many, many positive things. You know, what do you have to do in a climate where institutions have lost trust, where all institutions have you know, those the BBC the police whatever it is, have, have lost public trust compared to where they were 10 or 20 years ago and certainly that will kind of automatically include any financial institution. What do you do you do all things that human beings do to develop trust which are transparency, honesty, consistency over time inclusivity. And I know you are, these are things you're consciously doing so you have to do those things, but of course ultimately it's going to depend on performance. Because the reason face was lost in financial institutions was not that they were lacking any of trying to do those things, it was because it all went wrong. And so you know in, in ten years’ time, it will, the public faith, will above all depend on, what happened was the great monetary experiment of the 2010s vindicated over time or do we look back on it in the 2030s as having some error, major error in it that wasn't understood at the time. So it's all down to you I'm afraid.

    Andy Haldane: Thank you very much [laughter]. Last question that will open it out because I know there will be lots of questions out there.  I want to take you back to your 16 year old self at today's Tory Party conference, and I want to know what speech you would give today as you’re 16. I mean presumably you wouldn't say I want to be Prime Minister but maybe you, maybe you would. What would you say, what would be your aspirations, your ambitions, your aims, not just personally but for the whole country if you were giving that self-same speech today.

    William Hague: Well I think I would say, because it's very hard to know at 58 what you would say as a 16 year old, but I think I would say the country needs a centre-right, a moderate centre-right party. You know and as a 16 year old I don't want my future to be a choice between John McDonnell and Nigel Farage, and so there's got to be the dominant influence in, politics has got to be a centre-right party but the centre of that is important as well as the right. And so I'd be saying make sure you pursue a policy that brings all those people back together again. But I'm saying that as someone who just wrote the most critical article to, if I’ve ever written, of a conservative leader with the expulsion of the 21 members. And so obviously that's very much in my mind that there's got to be a viable successful conservative, governing conservative party, but it's going to have to be centre-right in its orientation.

    Andy Haldane: Fantastic let’s go to the floor, there’s some roving mics.

This page was last updated 31 January 2023