William Hague has just provided a masterclass in how not to kill off a resignation rumour. Asked to respond to Ming Campbell's suggestion that he was uncommitted to his "very demanding" job, Hague replied:
These are historic times. Momentous events are taking place. All of us who have taken on the job of shouldering responibilities at this time must see those responsibilities through for an extended period of time in the face of any criticism or setbacks. That's how we feel about it and that's certainly how I feel.
As Paul Waugh notes, that odd formulation, "an extended period of time", hardly suggests that Hague is in this for the long haul. It's not hard to see why. The list of gaffes committed by the Foreign Secretary is growing by the day: the credulous claim that Muammar al-Gaddafi was "on his way" to Venezuela; the bungled evacuation of British citizens from Libya; the calamitous SAS helicopter drop. Hague, hitherto regarded as one of the most able Conservative politicians, has become a liability. Add to this the frequent complaint that the Foreign Secretary has lost his "mojo" since the events of last summer, and it becomes clear why some are asking when, rather than if, he will walk.
Compared to his predecessor, David Miliband, who impressed the Foreign Office with his ambitious, pro-Europe, multilateral approach (and who spoke presciently of a "civilian surge"), Hague is a feeble creature indeed. The coalition was initially attacked for its narrow focus on trade promotion, an approach accurately denounced by Miliband as "low-grade mercantilism", but it now stands accused of incompetence, too. So long as Hague remains in his post, it will struggle to regain lost ground.