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By Harry Phibbs
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William Hague is the Foreign Secretary. But he also has a wider political role in the coalition Government in terms of seeking to maintain the support of Conservatives in general (and the Tory right in particular), that taking part in the coalition is necessary, acceptable and worthwhile.
On Wednesday, he is speaking as Foreign Secretary, but this afternoon he was speaking to this wider political message. He could easily have won an excited standing ovation by ripping into the Liberal Democrats but his role was to be conciliatory. The message is that while the Lib Dems might have told some rude jokes about us last week there will not be retaliation. We will rise above it. In the national interest.
"It was so vital to form a government in the national interest, even with our longstanding opponents like the Liberal Democrats. One and a half years in, our forming of a coalition has been more than vindicated.
Yes, it is different from governing on our own, and yes it means we all have some policies we cannot implement. Our distinct identities and beliefs remain.
But faced with a necessary but difficult decision over tuition fees, Nick Clegg stuck with it. In May, the British people affirmed by an overwhelming majority and with their usual good sense that first past the post is the best way of running our democracy and put to rest schemes of playing with the rules for a generation. He stuck with our agreement all the same. We should always have the generosity of spirit to recognise the contribution he makes to turning this country around."
There was plenty of straight talking over the economic difficulties ("I say to those who are protesting outside here today: the money you were promised by the last Labour Government never existed, it was never there, and we have been left with the task of telling you the truth.")
There were also the vintage rousing attacks on the Labour Party, a pretty easy target after the last week.
"Ed Miliband set out to get rid of union block votes, and was stopped – by, guess what, block votes. He wanted a general secretary of his own choice, but the unions went for their choice, just as they chose, well, him. Now he is too frightened to tell the unions who pay for his party that it is not in the national interest for them to strike.
Labour in opposition has become a by-word for wavering capitulation. No one who is too weak to control his own party or change his party, or to tell unions it will be damaging to our economy to launch politically motivated strikes, has a chance of being strong enough, above all in these tough times, to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom."
Only a passing mention of Libya, the greatest success story of the past year, but expect more on that subject on Wednesday. There was a forceful tribute to David Cameron ("…a strong sense of what is right, and brings a driving energy and ambition to achieving it.") Also a forgivable "I told you so" passage about the Euro.
Reminding the audience of the last Labour Government he spoke of it as:
…deeply divided, whose senior members were at each other’s throats, that had lost all sense of direction, that brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy and that, without John Prescott, was no longer even funny.
While Hague is a powerful orator and Prescott is linguistically challenged in a sense they have an equivalent role. Prescott sought to persuade Socialists that a Labour Government under Tony Blair was worth campaigning for. Hague seeks to persuade Conservatives of the same – that being in a Government constrained not merely by coalition with the Lib Dems but rather more seriously by our membership of the European Union.