LONDON (AFP) — William Hague’s surprise resignation as foreign secretary is the latest twist in a political career that has seen soaring highs and deep lows.
Now 53, Hague began as a prodigy who first caught public notice when he gave a rousing speech to a Conservative Party conference aged 16.
Speaking in his native flat Yorkshire accent, the fair-haired Hague drew hearty applause from then-opposition leader Margaret Thatcher as he spoke of how people “want to be free” from government interference.
Two decades later, he was to become the party’s leader aged just 36.
But his task of rebuilding the party in the wake of a crushing defeat by Labour in the 1997 general election proved a humiliating struggle.
Hague’s efforts to rebrand the Conservatives as a youthful, modern party brought ridicule in the press.
Pictured in a baseball cap with a youthful entourage on a trip to a theme park, Hague was described as resembling a child molester by one commentator.
Despite witty appearances in parliament in which he mocked then-prime minister Tony Blair, Hague did not engage with the wider electorate.
He resigned as leader in 2001 after Labour scooped another crushing victory, leaving front line politics to write biographies of historical figures.
His good humor and recognized wit has made him a popular after-dinner speaker, and he has appeared in a television satire.
Hague made a return to the forefront of politics when David Cameron won the Conservative leadership in 2005.
Named to be shadow foreign secretary as the Conservatives were in opposition, he won back the support of the party base with popular public speeches and confrontations with Labour in parliament.
By the time he was named foreign secretary after the 2010 election, Cameron had already described him as deputy leader in all but name.
Hague led negotiations to form a government with the Liberal Democrats, as the Conservative Party did not win enough seats to govern alone.
Educated in a local state school in Rotherham in northern England before going to Oxford University, Hague was a contrast in Cameron’s team – criticized by Conservative Education Minister Michael Gove as containing a “preposterous” number of alumni from the prestigious private school Eton.
In his four years as Britain’s most senior diplomat, Hague navigated the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, Russian encroachment into Ukraine, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and increasing skepticism towards Europe in his own country.
Initially seen as a tough eurosceptic at odds with the “compassionate Conservatism” of Cameron’s 2010 election campaign, Hague’s pragmatic approach to Europe contrasted with the increasingly vocal anti-EU wing of his party.
By 2011 he was accused by a prominent Conservative euroskeptic as having gone soft on Europe, and in January he opposed Conservative rebels who demanded the power to veto EU law, saying the idea was not “realistic.”
Writing on Twitter, Hague announced that he would act as leader of the House of Commons until the May 2015 election, when he would leave parliament.
He said he would continue a high-profile campaign against sexual violence in conflict.
“After such a long period in politics I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do,” Hague wrote on Twitter.
“Renewal in politics is good, and holding office is not an end in itself. After 26 years as an MP time will be right for me to move on.”
During his tenure as British Foreign Secretary, Hague often voiced concerns over Israel’s position towards Iran, and the Palestinians.
In February, Hague warned of “terrible consequences” if the US-led negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority failed.
“I have warned Israeli leaders, as well as Palestinians, that much of the world will see this as the last chance at a two-state solution,” Hague said during an interview on the BBC HARDtalk program. “I really pay tribute to [US Secretary of State] John Kerry and to the energy and commitment that he has put into this. And many observers will say if it doesn’t work, that if John Kerry, with all the weight of the United States, all his experience and standing in the Middle East and the world, cannot bring the two sides together to reach final-status agreements, then who can?”
But he rejected claims from some Israeli politicians that Kerry and the international community were trying to pressure Israel into accepting an unsatisfactory peace agreement.
“Nobody is putting a gun to anybody’s head,” he said. “If anything, what the EU is offering with our strong support is an unprecedented package of economic partnerships and assistance, to work with Palestinians and Israelis if this is successful. There is a real positive vision there.”
Hague will be replaced by arch-eurosceptic and former defense minister Philip Hammond. Hammond supports Britain leaving the European Union in a referendum in 2017 unless significant powers are returned to London.
Times of Israel Staff and Katherine Haddon contributed to this report.