William Hague, Britain's new foreign secretary

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

William Hague, named Britain's new Foreign Secretary Tuesday, was a prodigy who led the Conservatives into electoral disaster but is now one of their most popular and respected MPs.

The 49-year-old is fiercely eurosceptic, but while attacking the European Union (EU) for being overpowerful and undemocratic, he has toned down his opposition since becoming David Cameron's foreign affairs spokesman in 2005.

Despite his right-wing views, the plain-spoken Yorkshireman has fitted in surprisingly well in Cameron's new "compassionate Conservatism" and the party leader has described Hague as his deputy in all but name.

It is a remarkable transformation from the man who quit as Tory leader after a disastrous election in 2001, when Tony Blair's Labour government won its second consecutive landslide.

Born on March 26, 1961 in Rotherham in northern England and educated at the local state school, Hague was a politically-minded boffin who soon turned away from his expected career as head of the family soft drinks business.

He joined the Young Conservatives on his 15th birthday and a year later became the youngest speaker ever to address the Tory party conference, delivering a right-wing address that won cheers from Margaret Thatcher.

At Oxford University he obtained a top degree in politics, philosophy and economics and was president of the prestigious Oxford Union debating society, before going on to study at Insead Business School in France.

Hague worked first for Shell and then for US management consultants McKinsey and Co, and in 1989 was elected member of parliament (MP) for Richmond in Yorkshire, aged just 28.

At 34 he joined then premier John Major's cabinet as Welsh secretary and two years later was elected Tory leader, taking on the poisoned chalice of a deeply split and disillusioned party just one month after Blair's massive 1997 win.

His leadership began with some ill-advised attempts to look modern -- including wearing a baseball cap on a trip to a theme park which one commentator said made him look like a child molester -- and ended even worse.

Hague resigned after the 2001 election and left frontline politics to write books, work that, with after-dinner speeches and television appearances, netted him about one million pounds (1.5 million dollars, 1.1 million euros) a year.

Since his return in 2005, his good humour has made him one of Cameron's most popular spokesmen and he has appeared more at ease, admitting last year: "I am more comfortable in a slot where I don't have to be cool or normal."

© 2010 AFP

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