Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with the UK Conservative Party's William Hague, by Wilfred Frost on Tuesday 28th April.
Wilfred Frost (WF):
Now, William, you left the Foreign Office last year, in part to help focus on the election campagin. Are you a little disappointed with the lack of traction the Tory campaign has got so far?
William Hague (WH): No, not at all, it's a hard fought election on all sides this but, err, we're well in that hard-fought election and are getting across the message about the economy. Of course, elections are always difficult for incumbent governments. Err, every grievance in the world is held against whoever is in power. So, of course, we're always working against that. Err, but I think the campaign is going well. I think there are many undecided voters and we have to make sure in this last ten days of the campaign that they are voting to continue the economic turnaround we've seen in this country in the last five years.
WF: But, but as you say, just ten days to go. You'd also point out, as you say, the economy's in a pretty good shape. A lot of the polls on a personal level suggest that, er, David Cameron is more Prime Ministerial, er, than perhaps, Ed Miliband is. So you can't really claim the campaign is going well. The polls still neck-and-neck. You would have hoped to have had a little bit more of a lead by now.
WH: Well, there, there, we can only really make a judgment on the campaign when we've got the results, err, which are only ten days away. I think it's, err, I think we could easily judge too easily, people rush to judgment on campaigns a bit too easily, err, ahead of polling day. You know we had many judgments nine months ago ahead of the Scottish referendum about the merits of the respective campaigns and then the result came in with a very clear no vote by a ten point margin. That wasn't predicted by a lot of the polls or the commentators who thought the 'yes' side had fought a better campaign. Ah, so I think we can only make these judgments after the polling day and we have to concentrate on getting that message across and, err, it's entirely do-able. There can be a Conservative majority in parliament at the end of next week. I've been around several dozen marginal seats by now and I know that can be done.
WF: Let's talk about some of those messages that you're trying to get across. One of them is that the Conservative party is a party for everyone, it's not just a party for the rich. In terms of trying to get that message across, how big a problem is it that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Boris Johnson and others all went to Eton and Oxford?
WH: I don't think it is a problem. I speak as a comprehensive schoolboy and I've worked intimately with all of them for the last ten years, and, the Conservative, the Conservative party is not a party that excludes in any way. People like me, far from it, I've also been leader of the party. And I think people do judge the parties by their performance, by their policies, I don't really think they're thinking about the schools of the, ahhh, of whoever on whatever side of politics. In the Conservative party you can succeed on merit and you only succeed on merit, err, and I think that's, to me that is abundantly clear, after nearly a lifetime of service in the Conservative party. Err, so I don't think that's a disadvantage. We, err, our, our, (inaudible) our issue is overcoming the, all the resentments against any government of the day and being blamed for anything going on in the world. Erm, and our great advantage is we have turned around this country in the last five years and that, those considerations dwarf anything else.
WF: Ok. Let's move on to English votes for English laws, of course, something that you've been leading on. Overall, you are the Conservative and Unionist party. Does English votes put the Union at risk?
WH: No, it, err, I think it would be the absence of English votes that would put the Union at risk. We've got to be fair to everybody in the United Kingdom and what we are saying with our proposals on English votes, English laws, is not that anybody is excluded from anything. We're not saying Scottish MPs are kept out of anything in the House of Commons in the future, we're just saying that if a law or other proposal related only to England is passed, then it has to have the consent of a majority of the English MPs. As well as being discussed by everybody. Now I think that's fair, it's right, it's quite hard to argue against, err, in any logic, since there is greater powers being given to Scotland and Wales. Err, so I don't think it puts the UK at risk. I, I think it would put the UK at risk to NOT be fair to people across the whole United Kingdom, including in England.
WF: The way the Tories have treated the SNP over the last couple of weeks in particular but indeed the last sort of six months since the referendum, the kind of bashing that we've seen, err, across the board. Do you think that, and thus with it the treatment of nationalistic sentiment in Scotland, puts at risk the future of the Union? Are we on a path to Scottish secession at some point now?
WH: Well, I, obviously, hope we're not on that path but there is no doubt that the Scottish National Party are in a stronger position than in previous general elections and I don't think it's, um, talking up the Scottish National Party to say that. You only have to go to Scotland for a few hours in this election campaign to know that that is the case. And therefore we have to warn people that the alternative to a Conservative majority would be Ed Miliband propped up by the Scottish National Party. That is the arithmetic of it. (Wilfred: mmhmm). There is no point people waking up on the 8th of May on the day after the election saying "oh we didn't realise that if Labour got in it would be with the support and relying on the, the, day-to-day votes and leverage of the Scottish Nationals." And that's a great danger to the UK because what would the Scottish National Party do? They would try to set Scotland against England so they could win a subsequent referendum. So we are sending the warning about that. I don't think that is strengthening the Nationalists to, to, sound the warning about them. This is the choice the country faces now.
WF: Let's talk about Europe. Obviously committed to a referendum by the end of 2017. Is it plausible that David Cameron can establish meaningful reform of Europe before then?
WH: Yes it is. Yes, err, of course that can be done in a period of two and a half years and we have given a lot of warning of that. Now there are many people of course in Europe who don't want negotiations, um, but David Cameron has a strong track record of outperforming expectations and overcoming resistance in European negotiations. He was the first Prime Minister ever to come back home with a reduction in the total EU budget, something that's already saving the British taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds. He got us out of being liable for Eurozone bailout. He vetoed a treaty that, all of these things people said were impossible. But he did them all in European negotiations so I believe he can come back with a very important deal for Britain and important change in our relationship with the EU. And then of course it will go for referendum so the British people will be the judge in the end. That is the lock behind it all, in the end they get their say. Whether they're happy with it or not.
WF: And I think that fact in particular is what scares a lot of our viewers…the business community, investors are, are terrified at the prospect of a Brexit and what it would mean for the British economy. Are you - on that front are you a little concerned that it is offered on the Conservative party manifesto 'cos it calls into question whether the Tories really are good for business?
WH: Well I think, I think those businesses have to think about a couple of things. One of them is that what we will be, a lot of what we're asking for in Europe will make the whole of Europe better for business. You know, Europe is a shrinking pa…is a collectively, is a shrinking part of the world economy and we need to make the whole of the European Union more attractive for investment. Part of what we want is a European Union that is less top heavy, less centralised, less bureaucratic and so on. And so business can benefit from the Conservative agenda in Europe and on having a referendum, I would say, it's much better for us to have that on a timetable with a clear programme of bringing improvements in Europe, than it is to drift into it one day, because the British people do want to have their say about Europe and I think just refusing to listen to that - which is Labour's approach – will lead one day, would lead to a referendum in less planned circumstances. Err, so, businesses I think should support the Conservative agenda on this and indeed more broadly on the economy because we really have made Britain a great place to do business over the last five years.
WF: Um, we must touch on the, the election campaign overall and how it compares to some past ones you've been involved with. It does seem to the viewer very negative, quite petty and childish. Is it the most negative of the campaigns you've been involved with?
WH: No, not remotely. No, I would say, if anything, a bit less so than many campaigns I've been involved in or at the receiving end of. I remember when I was leader of the Conservative party at the end of 2001, Labour putting up posters of me with Margaret Thatcher's hairstyle, err, to try to scare the voters, you know, he's really, err, he has the same beliefs as Thatcher, which I did! Um, and that was, that was a very negative…(Wilfred: it was very fetching though…)…very fetching (laughing), of course. So, you often get those sorts of things are um,…all is fair in elections in those terms but no I don't think it is actually an excessively negative campaign. Certainly not from the Conservatives, we are campaigning on two million more jobs achieved in this country in the last five years, on two million apprenticeships (Wilfred: mmhmm), on our plans to extend home ownership. I think sometimes people say we're fighting negatively when we point out what we've just been talking about, that the alternative is Ed Miliband propped up by the SNP. But this election is a choice. It is not just voting in the abstract and if we don't have a Conservative majority, we will have Ed Miliband propped up by the SNP. But we have to say that.
WF: Your, your colleague Boris Johnson took a swipe at Ed Miliband at the weekend for the way he became leader of the Labour party and what he did to his brother in order to become leader. Is that a view that you share with Boris Johnson?
WH: Well it, they are obviously a ruthless pair to fight against each other, people can see that positively or negatively (laughing) and, err, it's not that attractive in a family to have such a feud, is it? But just as we were saying about um, schools and so on, I think really what people are deciding about – will decide about – in the election is about the policies, the government, what it will, we will do for people and the personal considerations are much less important.
WF: Now, William, in ten days' time you'll be retired from politics err, so you won't be taking place in any of the coalition discussions that are almost certain to come. Are there any lessons you learnt from the 2010 discussions that you would want to tell David Cameron and co. about ahead of it?
WH: Well the main lesson is not to be in a position where we have coalition negotiations. We had to have those five years ago. We acted in the national interest given the result of the election and we will always act in the national interest in the Conservative party. But let me make very clear, we're not looking for a coalition here. And, err, it is entirely possible to win a Conservative majority, we're only 23 seats short of a majority from our starting point and opinion polls that have just been published, ahh, in recent hours are varied but they extend up to a Conservative lead of 6%, ahh, so, this election in these ten days is entirely winnable with a majority for the Conservatives. We are not talking to any other parties, there are no deals with other parties and we need to get a majority this time.
WF: If there was one thing that the government could have done differently over the last five years, what would it have been?
WH: Oh, I'm not going to start criticising the government when I'm campaigning for its re-election (William laughs)
WF: (Wilfred laughs) You can't say that you've had a perfect performance over the last five years
WH: No, no, I'm not going to claim perfection for any government ever in history – or for any party ever in history. But I think we have enough people pointing out our faults without me pointing them out at the moment. This has been a dramatically better government than its predecessor, considering it's been a coalition. It has performed remarkably in turning around the British economy, so it's been far better than the average government and I'm not going to pick holes in it.
WF: William, ten days to go. Are you excited and energised or looking forward to retirement?
WH: Well I have that liberating feeling in an election that I'm not a candidate but I am working as hard as I ever did for the candidates, for them, because I really care about this country. I do not want to see it slide back to, to where it was five years ago. But, of course, I'm looking forward to the freedom to write books and do the things that I'm going to do out of politics, um, but I'm looking forward to doing it under a Conservative government. I remain very much a Conservative.
WF: William, thank you very much for your time and good luck with the future.
WH: Thank you. Thanks very much indeed.