Friday, January 02, 2009

‘No after-dinner speaker can bind himself’

William Hague has promised that the Tories will defend the pound for all eternity:

We would never join the euro. The jobs and businesses of this country are too important ever to sign away our right to do our utmost to defend them.

This amuses me. Being a political anorak, I remember Hague – as party leader during the 2001 election campaign – doing interview after interview in which he awkwardly dodged making exactly this commitment, not wanting to upset the Europhiles in his party. His stock phrase was “no Parliament can bind its successor”. Here he is being Paxmanned:

JEREMY PAXMAN: Would a party led by you ever vote in favour of the euro?
WILLIAM HAGUE: It will not do so in the next Parliament in the next Government. I set the policy for the next Government. You were accusing me a few minutes ago of changing policies.
JP: You might change your policy on this?
WH: I have been very clear from the beginning of the current Parliament that our approach is for the next Parliament because no Parliament can bind its successor. I am against euro, for keeping the pound. Our policies are for this Parliament.
JP: OK, would you personally ever vote in favour of the euro?
WH: My position is indistinguishable from the party. I am the leader, I set the policy, that is the same question as the previous question.
JP: No it is not.
WH: It is the same.
JP: I am asking a matter of personal conviction here. I understand all this business about a manifesto and you saying you cannot look beyond the next Parliament, but can you personally ever envisage yourself voting for the euro, ever?
WH: I am the leader of the Conservative Party. And it is...
JP: You have a personal view?
WH: The policy is set by the leader.
JP: You don't think more than five years ahead?
WH: I am against the euro and for keeping the pound.
JP: For ever?
WH: One Parliament at a time. Therefore the policy apples to the next Parliament.
JP: You are asking us to believe that after the next Parliament you might vote in favour of the euro?
WH: I am asking people to believe that the future of the pound is at stake. If Labour win they will be hell bent on doing away with it. And if we win we will keep the pound.
JP: Is it you don't know what your view is or you will not tell us?
WH: I will not allow us to be side tracked from a clear policy for this forthcoming Parliament by abstract questions about differing lengths of time.
JP: With the greatest of respect is this is not an abstract question, it is a matter of principle. You have said I oppose the European single currency in principle.
WH: It is an abstract question. Each party sets their policy, the policy of the Labour party is to hold a referendum.
JP: I am not asking about policy for the next Parliament. I am asking about your personal conviction. You are telling me your personal conviction is so easily swayed that you might at some stage vote in favour of the Euro.
WH: My personal conviction is against the euro and for keeping the pound. I am campaigning for keeping the pound and policy of the party which is indistinguishable from my own view, is set one Parliament at a time. And we have pledged to keep the pound in the coming Parliament.
JP: You have conceded that your party comprises many people who have personally strongly-held convictions, your feeling about the euro is not one of those?
WH: Of course it is anybody who sees me campaigning around the country campaigning to keep the pound knows I believe we should keep the pound. But our policy is clear, set at one Parliament at a time. We will keep the pound. The coming Conservative Government elected next week will keep the pound. You cannot get straighter than that.
JP: Let's support that, let's suppose that you lose this election, that there is a referendum, you may say it is a rigged question, let's say we go into the euro, you could find yourself leading a party which would support leadership of the euro, you can imagine that can you?
WH: If there was a referendum under a Labour Government of course we would campaign for a no-vote in that referendum.
JP: You can imagine yourself leading a party which supports the euro?
WH: I am setting the policy for this election.
JP: Your conviction does not set beyond the next Parliament?
WH: We are not having the election of 2005, we are having this election.
JP: Do you understand why some people find this incredible?
WH: I understand why people who are used to the fact that you could pick up the Conservative Party for being divided about Europe at the last election try to draw us in this election to draw us into saying different things from our policy.
JP: I am just asking you your personal conviction?
WH: Keep the pound.
JP: Forever?
WH: I set the policy one Parliament at a time.
JP: Why won't you will be explicit in principle terms. After all, all the polling evidence suggests that the vast majority of people share your beliefs?
WH: They do share my beliefs. Included among those people are some people who think we shouldn't ever join the single currency and some people who think we shouldn't join it now. All of those people are on the same side in supporting my policy.
JP: Which one are you?
WH: I am for keeping the pound.
JP: Forever?
WH: And the policy is set one Parliament at a time.

The fact that this charade is now over shows that, barring the occasional rumble of Ken Clarke’s stomach, the Europhile wing of the party is pretty much dead.

(Actually, I happen to think that the above interview – which ranged across several topics – was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Paxman managed to be both half-hearted and tenacious in his attempts to trip Hague up and thus generate a headline. There was barely any attempt to challenge him on policy or to elicit new information for the viewing voters, beyond an opening effort to draw him into a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise on every slogan he’d used over the previous few years. Also featured were a tedious string of questions along the lines of ‘you’re not going to win, are you?’ and a deeply odd set about his wife’s role in the campaign. Never, before or since, has my heart gone out to Hague.)

1 comment:

Liam Murray said...

Partisan fun aside these combative interviews are normally of little value - it's often clear from the outset what the interviewer is trying to do and just as clear that the subject won't give way. What follows is dull verbal boxing...

The best communicators have a way of sounding reasonable while dodging the question (John Reid was a master, Blunkett's good, Hague & Davis likewise) and the rest just stumble through leaving the impartial viewer despairing of interviewer & subject.