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The resurrection of Peter Hain

Peter Hain, Shadow Welsh Secretary, is to be one of the three shadow cabinet representatives on Labour’s national executive and tells the BBC: “I am also very pleased that Ed Miliband has appointed me chairman of the National Policy Forum, which will form Labour’s new agenda for government.” Although Hain was loyal to the New Labour regime, he sees himself as coming from the Left and a link with the grassroots, so he is a welcome replacement for Pat McFadden.

Peter Hain has been appointed to these responsibilities in spite of narrowly failing to win election to the Shadow Cabinet. He has done well to recover so far after the Times asked “is it all over for Peter Hain?” when he was forced to reign as Work and Pensions Secretary after getting into trouble over the finances of his deputy-leadership election campaign. Peter Hain came from the Left – a prominent anti-apartheid campaigner in the 1970s, co-founder of the Anti-Nazi League in 1977, and co-founder of the Labour Coordinating Committee with assorted Bennites in 1978. Although he re-positioned himself in the Kinnock and Blair years, he continued to see himself as having come from the Left and the grassroots. As he told the Guardian in 2001:

I never imagined I would become an MP. In fact, I was pretty sceptical of MPs for a long time. I had always seen myself as an extra-parliamentary activist. Politics has become a career where people work to become an MP from when they leave university and then, if they are members of the ruling party, work to become an government ministers. The weakness of the newer generation of MPs and ministers, not all of them, is that they do not have those political and ideological roots.”

Unfortunately for Hain, the grassroots had shorter memories than him, as became clear when he stood for the Deputy Leadership with very disappointing results. This could be the opportunity to restore his reputation. He has certainly been consistent about the need to connect with the grassroots. When he stood for deputy, he saw the role as:

pivotal to reconnecting with our grassroots and rebuilding the progressive coalition: a voice for the party in the cabinet and a voice for the cabinet in the party, the umbilical cord to connect and inspire. We need to bring Labour people back home and back together again.

Three years earlier in 2004, in a pamphlet for Catalyst entitled The Future Party, Hain had argued that members believed the party’s internal system of policy forums, introduced ten years previously by Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, was designed to neuter rather than empower them and that denying party members a say on important policies “bred resentment”. He pointed out that the proposals for neither top-up fees nor foundation hospitals had been through the party’s policy-making process and so had seemed to party members to have “dropped out of the clear blue sky”.

Parties inclusive enough to manage debates are winners. Parties spoilt by rancour, personality faction and division are losers. It is time to open up the system, loosen the control and re-empower the party”

If Peter Hain pursues that line as chair of the national policy forum, he will win the support of the party membership and the trade unions. He is certainly a welcome replacement for Pat McFadden.

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