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Tory MPs not party members should decide on leader, says William Hague

Conservative MPs should get to decide on future party leaders rather than the Tory grassroots, former leader William Hague has said.

The ex-leader of the opposition said it would “be better” for elected politicians to take the decision out of the hands of members.

Ms Truss was made prime minister after winning over a majority of 160,000 party members this summer, but her rival Rishi Sunak won more support from Tory MPs.

Asked if he wished the decision did not lie with the grassroots, Mr Hague told Times Radio: “Yes, is basically the answer to that”, adding that small memberships was an issue that confronted all parties.

He said the shift towards membership votes two decades ago was based on the idea “that if you give people a say they will want to get involved” in political parties.

“In fact, the world has changed,” said Mr Hague. “Society has changed. People don’t join organisations in the same way. So that assumption turned out as turned out to be wrong. And it would be better … for the members of parliament to have the full say on who the leader is.”

“I think that applies to all the political parties actually,” the ex-Tory leader added – pointing to Labour members electing Jeremy Corbyn. “So I think this is a wider reflection now on British democracy.”

Mr Hague said that he hoped that the government could learn from the U-turn on income tax and the political chaos of recent days.

“Maybe the government are beginning to learn, after a very terrible start, that they do have to look ahead and anticipate these problems.”

Unlike many despairing MPs, Lord Hague did not suggest that defeat at the next election is inevitable for the government.

“The whole political situation in this country is very fluid. And if I was the Labour party, I would not be confident I’ve got people excited yet about what a Labour government could do. There is still a lot to play for.”

But he said that Ms Truss’ team needs to learn the “right lessons” from the mini-budget debacle.

“They can either look at what’s happened over the 45p tax rate and say, ‘Oh, we had to give way on that so we’ve got to be adamant about everything else that we first thought otherwise we’re going to look weak’, but that would be a disastrous approach.

“Or they can say, ‘Well, maybe we should now really look ahead and not dig any more holes an climb into them and let’s be careful now’ … they really need to take that approach on a whole range of subjects because we’re coming into a very difficult period as a country and in the whole world anyway.”

Tory critics who forced a humiliating U-turn over the plan to abolish the 45p tax rate for top earners are now stepping up pressure on the government to confirm if benefits will increase with inflation.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has already made a second change of cause to reassure markets and Tory rebels by bringing forward his medium-term fiscal plan along with independent forecasts.

On the timing of Mr Kwarteng’s medium-term spending plans, Mr Hague said: “The sooner the chancellor sets out his plans for that, so that financial markets aren’t terribly surprised, again, the better.”

Ms Truss has committed to increase pensions in line with prices but on benefits says “we have to be fiscally responsible”. But her cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt broke ranks and said it “makes sense” to increase benefits in line with inflation.