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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Deputy Dawg

According to today's Guardian my constituent and much-loved Neath MP, Peter Hain, is the favourite to succeed John Prescott as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

Peter Hain has many strengths but unfortunately they may also count against him in any contest. He is undoubtedly a very talented minister and a good political fixer and organiser. His defusing of the miner's compensation row and his role in getting Alun Michael elected proves this. However, these qualities did not prove enough to retain Blaenau Gwent for Labour and it seemed that his tactics actually wound people up more and pushed them further into the Independent camp. He does not have the common touch.

Mr. Hain's main weakness is his own self-regard and the way that he happily parades it at every opportunity. This can wind people up and although he has ressurrected a moribund constituency organisation in Neath, I have been less than impressed by the way that he has handled some local issues and casework, some of which has come my way to sort out afterwards. People I have spoken to in Neath give me the impression that they believe that their MP main priorities are his own career and national issues.

His nickname is Peter Vain, largely because of his seemingly permanent tan and his obvious sense of his own self-importance. He clearly enjoys the trappings of office as is illustrated by this story. He projects an image of the principled politician but his main modus operandi is as an old-fashioned political fixer.

The Guardian says that he "has often caused controversy by frank speaking, including an admission that the government had lost support among traditional supporters. Three years ago while Commons leader, he was slapped down by Tony Blair after suggesting that high earners should pay more tax." What it does not say is that there is a view that these incursions were part of a calculated attempt to create an image within the Labour Party.

Peter Hain does not like people who stand up to him or challenge his assertions. His campaign against the Welsh Assembly's Regional List system has been a disgrace, based entirely on political expediency rather than principle. When I pointed out to him in the Assembly chamber that as he lives in my region he is my constituent he took extreme umbrage and slagged me off in a private press briefing. That is his right but it is hardly an honourable way to debate these matters.

All in all, the Labour Party will get the Deputy Leader that it deserves. Whether that person is Peter Hain has to be seen, but he does not strike me as the sort of politician who can inspire a mass membership in a ballot, nor one who sits comfortably with the party's traditions and concerns. Maybe that is why he has chosen to target union leaders, people he can do business with. It will be an interesting contest, all it needs is for John Prescott to fall on his own croquet mallet to spark it off properly. In the meantime, the behind-the-scenes manoeurving will continue.

Update: BBC Wales Parliamentary Correspondent, David Cornock, makes a welcome return with this insightful analysis of Peter Hain's prospects:

But for all his appeal as a left-wing "conscience of the party" deputy, Mr Hain will face questions from left-wing MPs over his unstinting support for the war in Iraq.

He also supports the retention of Britain's nuclear deterrent and has let his membership of CND lapse.

For all the talk of Blairites and Brownites, Hainite MPs have been less visible although the man himself believes he has enough private supporters to enter the race.

Mr Hain has nine years' experience as a government minister, with many more in a political career that began with his family's opposition to apartheid in their native south Africa.
He is one of the better communicators in politics, but has never run a large government department.

His political skills have steered through greater powers for the Welsh assembly despite scepticism from many Labour MPs, although his fingerprints can also be found at the scene of some of Welsh Labour's self-inflicted wounds in recent years.
There's also questions about the way he's running Northern Ireland which some see as treating as his own personal fiefdom.

Guido's also been digging up the dirt a bit, possibly because of this speculation...
“I have been less than impressed by the way that he has handled some local issues and casework, some of which has come my way to sort out afterwards.”

Oh, really, and what would those be? What are the major issues concerning the people of the Neath constituency?

You’ve been seen at one meeting held to discuss the Cilfrew natural gas pressure reduction station issue (and that was probably because ITV Wales were there filming), You’ve issued one press release regarding Pontardawe fire station (in which you said you’d written to the Chief Fire Officer of South Wales fire service, when in fact, Pontardawe is situated within the Mid & West Wales fire service region - what does that say about your local knowledge?), and that’s about it on big issues. The Neath Port Talbot news section of your website looks extremely bare to say the least!
Actually Martyn, I have been to Cilfrew to meet residents a number of times. I also attended several meetings with Mid and West Wales Fire Authority regarding Pontardawe Fire Station, including one in the last month. I have also spent quite a lot of time on issues in the Onllwyn area.

I undertake a number of surgeries in the Neath Port Talbot area and get a lot of individual casework, which I do not publicise. This inevitably includes people who have been to see Peter Hain, without any joy. In a number of instances I have been able to sort things out for them.
Give this man a job, any job, to get him as far away from Northern Ireland as is politically possible!
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