Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hain launches deputy leadership campaign

Peter Hain last night began his bid to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party. Hain spoke of his desire to renew the progressive coalition which swept Labour to power in 1997.

I saw Peter Hain speaking this summer at the GMB congress in Blackpool and was impressed. There was suspicion at the time of Hain's motives for appearing and he was pointedly reminded of this when introduced to the delegates. President Mary Turner asked rhetorically if it was Hain's first address to the GMB. Mr Hain has been a member of the GMB for some 30 years.

Nevertheless, the Northern Ireland Secretary spoke well. He is not the liberal activist he once was. But then he would not be where he is now had his opinions and motivations not changed and matured. This is a man who once received a letter bomb to his door (it failed to explode). Who in 1975 was acquitted at the Old Bailey of his alleged involvement in a bank robbery in Putney. At the time Hain was a vigorous anti-apartheid campaigner and a prominent white South African attracting so much attention abroad was not the sort of attention the ruling administration wanted. It is widely believed that both incidents were orchestrated by the regime to which he was a thorn in the side.

Hain has already made noises which many Labour supporters will find reassuring. He has spoken of his belief in the need for electoral reform; he is willing to consider limits on private sector involvement in the NHS; and he has opposed those who seek to minimise the unions' influence in the party.

Today Alan Johnson has confirmed he will stand for the deputy leadership and with Gordon Brown still the overwhelming favourite to succeed Tony Blair it may enhance Johnson's chances. The thought of a Scottish prime minister and a South African deputy may prove too much for some. Nonetheless, in the current climate of the Labour party, Hain's words may be exactly what many have been hoping for.

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