Changes in election of the Conservative Leader
In 2001, it became apparent to the Conservative Party that leadership under William Hague was not working and a new more suitable leader should be decided upon. Following Hague’s resignation the party chose to utilise the “One Member, One Vote” system which represented a significant change in the parties internal system. The Conservatives carry many elitist ideals and at the time they were very prevalent in the party’s decision making and the electing of a new leader. Prior to the election in 2001, the party leader would have been decided by a handful of elected representatives, in the first OMOV vote there was a potential 328,000 voters of which 79% exercised this new right.
Main changes to party organisation under William Hague
Hague’s position as leader of the Conservatives was in the wake of the worst general election the party had faced in the 20th century, Hague clearly needed to do some serious re-organising of the party to have any chance in the next election. His first major act in his Tory reformations was “Listening to Britain”, a £250,000 campaign to put the party back in the good books of the public. Building on the success shown by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” this was Hague’s attempt to rid the party of its harsh exterior. The campaign received mixed views and Hague’s leadership remained stale until a success of the Conservatives in the European party proved he was doing something right. Gaining the Tories 36 seats to Labours 29. The success, he claimed, was down to his opposition of the Euro currency, a trade mark of Conservative ideology. Hague tried to give the party a more democratic feel, instituting the OMOV system into many more of the parties decision making processes and moving away from some of the parties more hardcore ideologies, particularly the view on women and immigration. But the “Foreign Land” speech proved very controversial and left Hague sounding ignorant and confused.
How far did these reforms succeed in modernising the Conservative Party?
In 1997, the Conservative party was in a rut. Labour under Blair had steamrolled the opposition and left the party looking backward and irrelevant. Hague was left with a daunting task, at only 36 he was a fresh faced leader in the faces of older experienced Conservatives and had beaten much more experienced competition on the promise of modernising the party and moving toward a serious attempt at the next general election. Hague set about trying to complete the difficult task of modernising the party, but keeping the core ideals strong enough as to not alienate hardcore Tory supporters. His “Listening to Britain” campaign was a step in the right direction, but its poor implementation and two-faced political attitude proved detrimental to many members of the public. Hague’s attempts to make the party more pleasant faced reached ridiculous levels when he and his Chief of Staff attended a theme park wearing “HAGUE” hats in ridiculous publicity stunt. The event was shunned by the media, and following party conference didn’t fare much better. The Sun berated Hague’s performance and the party, which lost the support of probably the most influential paper in the country that had in the past played a pivotal role in Tory victories. Amanda Platell one of Hague’s leading supporters told him to abandon this new approach and follow what he stood for. This lead to more ridiculous stunts and public outbursts by Hague, and it became clear in many people’s view that he was just making rash attempts to win votes. The Conservatives suffered a dreadful defeat yet again at the general elections in 2001, gaining only one more seat than in 1997. Hague swiftly resigned. Clearly his politics had failed, but aspects of his reforms were beneficial to the party. The strong introduction of the OMOV system changed the way the Conservatives have handled internal voting ever since and with many other reforms helped reduce party officials elitism. However, overall they only clouded a vain attempt to rejuvenate the party and strive to win the next election, which drastically failed.