Britain needs William Hague

Posted on August 20, 2012

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William Hague will not be a great Foreign Secretary, but the guy who creates the circumstances for someone else to be a great Foreign Secretary. If Britain is to have a truly strategic foreign policy in the early 21st Century, it is crucial that he stays in his job, not randomly replaced by someone far less qualified for the role.

In the Telegraph today, commentator Paul Goodman argues that David Cameron should replace Mr. Hague with the current Home Secretary Theresa May in a big reshuffle that he thinks would restore a sense of purpose to the beleaguered coalition government. He justifies this move by arguing that the Foreign Secretary has done what he set out to do: restoring “the seriousness, standing and self-confidence of the Foreign Office” after years of Labour “pillage”. Why Mrs. May should replace him isn’t explained in any detail, only that she may be just a bit more Eurosceptic (which hardly implies she has the potential to be a British Hillary Clinton…).

Mr. Goodman is a good pundit, but I think his ‘take’ here is flawed: if the Foreign Office seems to carry more weight in government than it did under Labour, it is due to William Hague’s personal authority, not because his reforms have imbued it with authority. The changes he has made to the department will take years to come to fruition, but if they are to be successful at all, they need a Foreign Secretary as personally powerful as Mr. Hague to nursemaid them. If anyone is going to put the Foreign Office back at the heart of British foreign policy-making, it is the de facto deputy leader of the Conservative Party, not a mildly competent technocrat like Theresa May.

There are many other reasons why William Hague must continue as Foreign Secretary until the next election. His policies are, broadly speaking, good ones for Britain, even if I think they often contradict one another. Mr. Hague is also likeable, charismatic, and has built up good connections, which aren’t bad things when it comes to diplomacy.

Few pastimes are as pleasurable for politicos as ministerial musical chairs and there will be dozens of op-eds over the coming weeks recommending all kinds of new cabinets to the Prime Minister that would allegedly restore his political fortunes. Yet William Hague is simply too good at his job to be moved – indeed, the same is true for most of the senior ministers in the government.

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