William Hague, former Tory leader and Foreign Secretary, and current Leader of the House, gave his last party conference speech today. The popular party figure, who will stand down in 2015, made a speech that was very well-received by the conference audience, opening with a video tribute and ending with a warm standing ovation from the crowd. One onlooker commented that it was “a bit like a retirement party; no one’s going to think anything bad about you”.
It was unsurprising that Hague – a long-standing, senior figure – received such an enthusiastic response, but his advice to the party is worth noting. There was much applause for his comment about being “a comprehensive schoolboy from Rotherham”, and that the Conservative party should not be seen as the party of the privileged. He said it shows not all Tories are “privileged, or come from the South, or connected to anybody”.
His final message to the party was that it must always maintain its breadth of appeal, saying, “there is not and must never be anything narrow” about being Conservative.
Here’s the passage:
There is not and must never be anything narrow about our Conservatism.
That I and others can work on so many issues within a career in the Conservative Party shows its breadth and its unending relevance and potential.
And by the way, I’ve done all this work and held so many high offices starting as I did as a comprehensive schoolboy in Rotherham. Don’t anyone ever try to tell me that you have to be privileged, or come from the south, or be connected to anybody at all, in order to get to the top in the Conservative Party. Our Party is a party for everyone.
This is a particularly poignant message, what with a perception persisting of the Conservatives as the party of the few. A YouGov poll in the Sunday Times today compared voters’ views of how privileged they see David Cameron compared with Ed Miliband: 56 per cent see Cameron as privileged, with only 14 per cent thinking the same of Miliband. The Tories are going to struggle to solve this problem at the general election if they continue leaning right in an attempt to shoot Ukip’s grinning fox.