William Hague is quitting as Foreign Secretary before standing down as an MP at the next election. Hague will become Leader of the House of the Commons for the remainder of this parliament.
Hague’s move changes the nature of this reshuffle, making it the most significant and far reaching of Cameron’s tenure as party leader. But it also creates a headache for him: who to make Foreign Secretary? This reshuffle’s aim is to bring on a new generation and to promote more female talent. But it is hard to see who fits that description who could become Foreign Secretary. (One person who isn’t becoming Foreign Secretary is George Osborne who is staying at the Treasury.)
Hague’s departure is a surprise. But it is not a total surprise; he has not been particularly active in recent times. One long-standing colleague told me earlier that ‘I could see in William’s eyes that his heart wasn’t in it anymore’.
Friends say that the Commons’ defeat of the government over Syria took a big toll on him. There’s also no doubt that Hague, having seen how nice life could be outside politics, chaffed at the constraints that politics imposed on him. He also never much liked dealing with the media, a key part of the job nowadays. Colleagues say that constant international travel had exhausted him too, for the first time in years he has taken to complaining of being tired.
Hague’s influence on the Cameron project has often been understated. His return to the front bench in 2005 sent an immediate message that Cameron was credible. In 2010, he was the key part of the Tory coalition negotiating team. Then, in government his advice has often been decisive; he is the main reason Andrew Lansley’s Health Bill was paused. Tonight, Number 10 is stressing how involved he’ll be in domestic politics for the next 10 months and he will, undoubtedly, be a big influence on Cameron. But there’s no doubt tonight that Hague’s departure embodies the transfer of power from one Tory generation to another.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.