1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Mr Major’s book review of William Hague’s “William Pitt the Younger”, published by The Mail on Sunday in September 2004.
When I appointed William Hague to the Cabinet at a tender age, I did so because he was, and is, the outstanding political talent of his generation. His political career suffered a setback as Leader of the Conservative Party when he was unable to overcome the hostility of the metropolitan media and the turbulence of a parliamentary Party prepared to squabble but not to be led.
He will, I hope, return to the front rank of politics but, if he does not, a consolation is at hand: for William Hague can write and his first book “William Pitt the Younger” is one of the most enjoyable biographies for years.
Pitt was a wise choice of subject for he is one of the most interesting of Premiers. Son of the Earl of Chatham, his childhood was a prolonged preparation for Government as private tutors -
Pitt’s psychological make-
Even with natural gifts, his tale is extraordinary. These days, no talent -
Fox was one of the greatest of Parliamentary orators and he and Pitt had begun as friends in sharp contrast to the enmity that existed between their parents. The friendship could not survive -
Pitt’s rise in Parliament was based on his lineage, his talent, a handful of well received speeches and the fact that the majority of political talent was in the Lords and effective spokesmen, however young, were needed in the Commons.
He was lucky, too. King George III loathed Fox and was determined to oust the Fox-
Pitt took Office in a hopeless position in Parliament but the wholesale misuse by the King of his powers of Patronage (awarding honours and pensions) soon brought Pitt many supporters. For week upon week he was defeated in the Commons but declined to resign until the tide of public opinion -
For the next two decades, Pitt dominated British politics. He faced many crises: when George III lapsed into temporary insanity his Administration was at risk as the Prince of Wales, a close ally of Fox, prepared to dismiss him and appoint his rival. With great cunning, Pitt delayed parliamentary approval of the Prince as Regent and, with the King’s recovery, the Pitt Administration survived.
But his luck had its limitations. Events took over. Ahead of him lay battles to abolish slavery, failed attempts to create peace in Europe, the reform of National finances, the domestic impact of the French Revolution, and a long and debilitating war with France, made more dangerous by the rise of Napoleon. Nelson’s victories at Cape Vincent and the Nile were bright spots that sustained Pitt at a bleak time.
During these travails Pitt's health and popularity suffered but splits among the Fox Whigs left him with a huge Parliamentary majority and only a rump in opposition. After 17 years of domination of the political system there was wholesale shock when he left office at the age of 41 in a wholly avoidable row over Catholic emancipation. He and the King had opposing views and neither would give way: fatigue too, must have played a part and Pitt resigned.
For a while his successor, Addington, prospered although allies of Pitt were never slow to deride him. William Hague's description of Pitt's behaviour is a classic of political observation. At first Pitt offered strong support to Addington but then moved inexorably to opposition: hubris, regret, real and imagined slights, reports from fawning acolytes all played their part in feeding bitterness and growing hostility. Time after time Pitt acted to undermine his successor until Addington resigned and Pitt returned to Office.
The story of Pitt -