William Hague has been on TV a lot recently. He's always fluent and in command of his brief. But whenever I watch him I get the uncanny sense that I'm watching somebody in a movie playing the part of a politician, rather than being a politician. For a man in the midst of the most exciting global events for decades, he seems oddly unengaged, as if going through well-practiced motions by rote.
What is it with Hague? He has all the talents: intellect, nous, confidence, speaking skills. But it's never been clear to me, in either of his major political incarnations (leadership and post-leadership) that there is much behind the gestures, political or physical. There's something oddly insubstantial about him. I don't have a strong sense of his political soul - of why he's in politics, other than to be a politician. He's often talked about as a torch-bearer of the right in Cameron's cabinet. But I suspect that the right are projecting on to a blank screen.
The Spectator's James Forsyth, broadly supportive of this government, has written a very interesting piece on its distinct lack of a real foreign policy, and in particular the void at the top of the Foreign Office:
William Hague should be ideally equipped to develop (a strategic foreign policy). He has a formidable intellect and an extensive knowledge of the world. But since his return to frontline politics in 2005, he has not been the figure he once was. He is proof that a politician without ambition is one devoid of energy or drive.
Hague’s colleagues speculate that he wanted to be shadow foreign secretary rather than shadow chancellor because that allowed him the time to concentrate on his outside interests. In government, he has continued to disappoint his admirers. Even loyalists inside No. 10 wonder why Hague has made no impact at the Foreign Office. Tory MPs have been left wondering why the fight has gone out of him. One Cabinet member says that it is as if someone has ‘drained the battery fluid’ from the energetic Eurosceptic they once rallied around.
In the bars of Westminster, they say he was traumatised by his time as Tory leader. Another rumour is that Hague’s faith in his own judgment has been shaken by Iraq, a war he supported with almost unparalleled vigour from the back benches. Others just think that he’s fallen out of love with politics...
Ever since that speech to conference as a teenager, Hague's life has been politics. Now that he's in one of the great offices of state, he seems to be wondering, a la David Byrne, 'What am I doing here?'
UPDATE: It's slightly unseemly, is it not, for the Foreign Secretary to repeat some rumour he's read on the internet about Gaddafi fleeing to Venezuela - only to be proved wrong almost immediately?