The politician once described as the ‘best prime minister the Tories never had” advised young people in Chester to aim for the top job.

Former Tory leader and ex-foreign secretary William Hague, who hails from the Labour heartland of South Yorkshire, told an audience of university and local school students how he first got involved in the political scene.

And he recounted that famous speech to the Tory party conference in 1977, aged just 16, long before any of the 200 politics students in the lecture theatre were even born.

Speaking at the University of Chester’s Riverside campus, at an event hosted by city MP Stephen Mosley, Mr Hague told them: “You can’t beat showing up; 80% of getting started in politics is just showing up, because most people don’t show up.

“I went to a comprehensive school in Rotherham in South Yorkshire. I went to a meeting of what was then called the Young Conservatives. Since nobody else at all turned up, I was the chairman!

“Sometimes a few others turned up. But they were happy for me to be the chairman. I seemed keen. That gave me a ticket to the party conference. And when I got there, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give them all a speech’, at the age of 16.

“I didn’t realise it would be a media sensation, which it was immediately and now, nearly 40 years later, the most common thing people say to me is ‘I remember that speech, when you were 16’, despite all the other things I’ve done. But it shows the impact youth can make.

“And I have never found any barrier to me at all. As I say, coming from a comprehensive school in South Yorkshire to being a Member of Parliament, party leader, foreign secretary. It’s all there for the taking. There is no mysterious circle, there is no glass ceiling.

“It’s there, anybody can get involved and become the prime minister or the foreign secretary.”

Mr Hague, who represents Richmond in North Yorkshire, was asked by one male audience member how seriously the political community should take comedian Russell Brand who has urged people not to vote but to instead get involved with direct action like the Occupy movement.

Mr Hague responded: “You have to take seriously anybody’s comments if they are listened to. And I think it’s important to make the case I was making earlier, in my opening remarks, to be engaged in politics, to vote, even to become a member of parliament because that is the only way that anything is changed or improved.”

He conceded it was “not always obvious to people what changes in their lives” whether they took an interest in politics or not, but added: “The answer certainly isn’t for people not to vote and take no interest, that doesn’t lead to a new social order, that leads to decisions being made by minorities rather than the full democratic majority.”

Mr Hague, 53, who retires from parliament after next May’s general election, told journalists afterwards about his connections with Chester.

“One of my sisters did used to live in Chester, this was many years ago, but only for a few years in the course of her husband working in the area so I have often visited Chester in the past.”

And Mr Hague said he had spoken at the Chester Pitt Club, dedicated to the memory of William Pitt, the UK’s youngest ever prime minister at 24, about whom Mr Hague wrote a popular biography - possibly with a few thoughts about what might have been.

He continued: “I came here a few years ago and spoke about my book on William Pitt and my wife has been here to the literature festival.

“When I was Secretary of State for Wales I was always not far away, but I can’t claim any more connections than that, but I’m very fond of this city.”

What will he do next?

“I’m leaving the House of Commons but that’s different from retiring. I haven’t made any specific plans but I will certainly write again. I wrote my books before on Pitt and Wilberforce and I will return to writing history.

“I might do a little bit of teaching - maybe this is good practice! - at various universities and I will continue to campaign on one or two causes, particularly on preventing sexual violence in conflict and trying to stop the illegal wildlife trade. So some mixture of those things.

“I’ve been an MP since I was 27, so I am ready for a change and I have held a lot of high offices and done many things.

“Politics needs a mixture of experience and renewal and I have provided some experience for a long time but I think you have to let the renewal take place as well and also I want to do those things I’ve never had the time or opportunity to do in life.”

Spelling gaffe

The Tory leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Mike Jones, was guilty of an embarrassing spelling gaffe following Mr Hague’s visit to Chester.

In a tweet praising the former Conservative minister, Cllr Jones wrongly spelled the politician’s name as ‘Haig’!

Cllr Jones’ full tweet read: “Huge crowd to listen to William Haig speaking in Chester, one of the finest national politicians of the last 30 years.”

 

When this was pointed out to him on social media, Cllr Jones insisted the error was the result of ‘predictive spelling’.