Hague admits Tories must change

The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, has conceded that the Conservative party faces a new test after disappointing by-election results last week.

He explained that the Tories had to “keep doing better” after Conservative MP Bob Neill won the Tory heartland seat of Bromley and Chislehurst with a much-reduced majority.

The party saw its 13,342 majority drastically reduced to just 633 by the Liberal Democrats, and Mr Hague revealed the Conservatives were aware they needed to “change to succeed”.

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday AM programme, the ex-leader admitted that the party must continue its efforts to return to being the dominant political force in the UK, although he suggested that an underhand Lib Dem campaign had undermined the result.

“We have got more work to do. There were particular factors in Bromley. I think it is true the Liberal Democrats ran a very, very nasty, negative, personal campaign,” he said.

“So that may be the fact of the matter but it doesn’t excuse the whole situation.”

One possible change that Mr Hague said would be going ahead was the withdrawal from the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) alliance.

Mr Cameron had already pledged that this would be seen through, but recent delays in the departure had been attributed to a change of heart from the leader.

The shadow foreign secretary denied these rumours, and indicated the shape that the new group might take.

“It will stand for the things we believe in”, Mr Hague explained.

“Not for a centralising federal Europe but for an open, modern, flexible, anti-protectionist Europe and we think that is the agenda of the future.”

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Hague also proposed that the UN appoint a coordinator to oversee the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan, his comments coming the same day as the Ministry of Defence revealed two soldiers died after Taliban militants fired rockets at their base

“This is really bound up with the military situation because unless we can show people in Afghanistan that there is an alternative future to growing opium and being with the Taliban, unless we can prove that then actually we are not going to succeed,” he said.