Conservative conference: William Hague warns Boris Johnson against over-reliance on powerful advisers

Andrew Woodcock
·3-min read
Lord Hague (PA)
Lord Hague (PA)

Former Conservative leader William Hague has become the latest party insider to warn Boris Johnson against over-reliance on powerful advisers such as Dominic Cummings.

Lord Hague did not mention Mr Cummings by name but said the Johnson administration was too centralised and “heavily dominated at the top by a group of advisers” and had too few “strong, self-confident ministers”.

His comments came during an annual Conservative conference taking place against a backdrop of unease among disgruntled Tory MPs over Mr Cummings’s influence over the government’s direction.

Lord Hague, who led the Tories from 1997 to 2001 and served in cabinet as foreign secretary from 2010-14 and leader of the Commons from 2014-15, said that Mr Johnson would be more likely to succeed if he surrounded himself with strong ministers who were able to argue back to him.

In an apparent reference to the exodus of ministers like Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and Rory Stewart from the cabinet since Mr Johnson’s arrival at 10 Downing Street, Lord Hague noted that one of the reasons why the cabinet was not full of strong and independently-minded members was that “a lot of very experienced people have left the government”.

Speaking to Times Radio’s G&T programme, Lord Hague said: “My main constructive criticism of the government is it would be better over time if it could turn into a government where the prime minister is surrounded by strong, self-confident ministers who are able to debate things together, who are able to argue with the prime minister for good or ill, without fear or favour, rather than be seen as being very heavily dominated at the top by a group of advisers.

“I think that would be better for relations with parliament, but I think it would also lead to better decisions.

“In governments that I've served in that have worked well, there have been senior ministers who have regularly debated everything, who were able to say each morning to the prime minister, ‘Well, hang on a minute, I'm not sure this is a good idea'.

“That is a more secure basis for a government to succeed. That hasn't yet been developed in this administration. My main piece of advice would be to try to do that over the coming months and years.”

Asked whether the current cabinet was too weak, Lord Hague said: “Well I think there is an attempt to run the government in a very centralised way, with good intentions but it's very difficult to run British government in that way. It's just too complex, there's just too much going on in every department.

“And you need, in each department, a secretary of state who feels empowered to take some decisions and have their own understanding of the situation. I think that's not happening.

“And also a lot of very experienced people left the government.”

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