Peter Hain, donations, gifts and weird scenes inside the goldmine

Gordon Brown’s latest comments about Peter Hain look to me a bit like the dreaded “vote of confidence” that a manager of a football team receives a week or two before getting his P45. 

Peter Hain is a curious politician. He is South African by birth, was chairman of the Young Liberals in the 1970s when they were at their most active and radical. He probably demonstrated out side cricket and rugby grounds where South Africa was playing while I was watching the matches on television.

In 1975 he was accused of armed robbery, tried and found not guilty. He wrote a very moving account of that experience, which he followed up with a book called “Political Trials in Britain” in which he showed how many people were only accused of crime to serve an underlying political objective. His own accusation was subsequently blamed on the South African security services.  

In 1977 he converted himself to the Labour Party and was in 1991 found the incredibly safe seat of Neath, in South Wales, where he has remained MP ever since, serving in junior posts in the Labour Government since 1997, after embracing the dogma and doctrines of New Labour.

The most important work he did was in the Anti-Apartheid movement, well before he became an MP. At the time of writing he is Pensions Minister and Minister for Wales, the latter a somewhat redundant post, surely, in the light of Wales having its own elected assembly. In his website he claims that in a short stint at the DTI in 2001 he was responsible for prioritising green renewable energy “in a way not done before.” I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. I would like to know.

I wonder what his views are about the proposal to build the biomass power station in Port Talbot. Does he understand the potential harm it will cause? He is in danger of being sacked because of some problem with money. That substance, the love of which is the root of all evil, has always caused the recent caste of professional politicians more than a little local difficulty.

Hain wanted to become Deputy Prime Minister, which post was up for grabs after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. There were five other candidates. There was an election amongst labour party MPs members and the Trade Unions. Each of the candidates spent some money campaigning – for leaflets, letters and the like. Each candidate was required by law to declare his or her expenditure. 

Mr Hain came fifth in the election but spent a mind boggling £200,000 on his campaign. I say mind boggling because at Genersys we publish brochures, send them out and market our solar panels so I know what things cost. No other candidate spent more than £100,000. Mr Hain came fifth in the election. He says that was given £185,000 from donations to fund his campaign and borrowed a further £25,000 from a diamond dealer. 

However he did not, on his own admission follow the law about declaring his expenditure. He says he was too busy running his Government Department but obviously not to busy to stand for the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Some of the donations he received come from an unknown “Think Tank” that does no published thinking, called “the Progressive Policies Forum”. I would be very interested to learn of their ideas.

Mr Hain’s offence of failing to declare these donations in full and on time and the loan has been called “incompetence” by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown; Mr Hain says that he took his “eye off the ball”, a cricketing metaphore. When a batsman takes his eye of the ball he is usually out bowled.

There are a couple of weird points about Mr Hain and his donations which I do not understand and I hope that someone reading this reading this web log can help my poor brain figure it out. The first strange point is that some of these donations were given after Mr Hain lost the election.

I can understand why people want to donate money to someone for a campaign for high political office. They may feel that the candidate has genuine qualities that are far better than any other person standing; they may enjoy playing kingmaker; they may hope for a commercial advantage after the successful campaign, and accordingly regard this as a commercial investment. 

I cannot think why someone should give money to a candidate after his campaign has failed, except possibly for future commercial advantage or a genuine close sympathetic relationship with the losing candidate. In that case it is not a political donation but a personal gift to him to help out with his debts.

Should members of Parliament be accepting personal gifts? I do not think they should. They get paid enough already.  The second weird thing arises from the Labour Party rule that if you get a donation as an MP you have to pay 15% of it to the Labour Party. Peter Hain registered a payment to the Labour Party of £11,550 on 18th September 2008.

However he raised a total of £185,000 so he owes the Labour Party another £16,200. He, of course, still has to repay the £25,000 interest free loan; presumably he has to pay 15% of the notional interest he saved to the Labour Party too. 

I expect that Mr Brown will soon deliver the knock out blow to Peter Hain’s political career. Having fought a good fight against apartheid in your youth does not guarantee a political career for life. You are most harshly judged on your own mistakes; the good you have done is gone.

It seems to me that the ideals of Peter Hain have changed as he has grown older. Robert Frost’s words come to mind:-  “I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old.”