Victorious Hague pledges to heal Tory divisions

 

MR WILLIAM Hague (36) this morning awakes to the realities of at least five years in opposition after sensationally winning the Conservative leadership in yesterday's third and final ballot.

Conservative MPs followed their Eurosceptic instincts, and Baroness Thatcher's advice, to hand the crown to Mr Hague with a clear victory over his leadership rival, the former chancellor, Mr Kenneth Clarke. Against expectations of a photo finish, following Wednesday's "shotgun wedding" between Mr Clarke and Mr John Redwood, Mr Hague emerged the undisputed victor by 92 votes to 70.

The new Tory leader promised during his campaign to submit himself for approval by an enlarged Tory electorate in the autumn. And last night the way for his popular anointment was being cleared as Mr Clarke stood by his prior decision to return to the backbenches if he failed to win the leadership.

It was not immediately clear if Mr Hague would offer a senior shadow cabinet post to Mr Redwood. But again, any potential threat from that quarter was largely removed by the over whelming rejection of Mr Redwood's alliance with Mr Clarke. It appeared Mr Redwood had managed to bring only six of his supporters with him.

The failure of the so called "dream ticket" has threatened to consign leading leftwingers to the isolation of the Tory backbenches, as MPs opted for youth against Mr Clarke's experience.

However, the new leader immediately pledged to heal his party's wounds. Alter his victory, Mr Hague said: "The Conservative Party has placed a very great responsibility on me and done me a great honour in electing me its leader. I see it as my job not only to lead the party but to heal its divisions."

However, no sooner had Mr Hague confirmed he would offer Mr Clarke a senior post, than it was politely declined as Mr Clarke drew the curtains on a ministerial career spanning more than 15 years.

Insisting that his decision implied no comment on the election or Mr Hague, Mr Clarke said: "This has nothing to do with the events of this leadership contest, which we have all set behind us. I have been on the frontbenches for 26 years. I have either been in most departments or I have shadowed them. I've retained my enthusiasm for politics and I think it might wear off. .. I propose to take an active part in politics from the backbenches, giving my unstinting and loyal support to William Hague as our next Conservative prime minister."

Baroness Thatcher said: "It's been a good day. It was a clear decisive result. That's the important thing."