Hague comes face to face with Guido

Hague holds press conference with the unfortunately named German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle

If William Hague hoped that his extraordinary statement last night (on the day of a major book release) would end speculation about his private life, he was wrong. The story makes the front pages of no fewer than seven national newspapers and occupied the main debate slot on the Today programme this morning.

In a cruel twist of fate, Hague is in Germany this morning and has just held a press conference with the country's foreign minister, one Guido Westerwelle, who shares a Christian name with Hague's online tormenter. In another remarkable coincidence, Westerwelle is also openly gay.

Elsewhere, Hague has come under fire this morning from John Redwood, who argues, as my colleague Sholto Byrnes has, that it was, at the very least, "poor judgement" to share a hotel room with a special adviser.

Redwood also touches on the disquiet among Tory MPs over Hague's pragmatic approach to relations with the EU:

When will he implement the coalition's promise to end transfers of power to the EU or to give us a vote on such transfers? How does he fit in EU criminal justice changes to this policy? The mutterings I hear from fellow Conservative MPs relate to this, not to the state of his marriage.

The right has clearly spied an opportunity to scrutinise Hague's political life, as well as his personal affairs.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.