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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Őpik on Hain

Lembit has an article in today's Western Mail justifying his stance yesterday that attacks on Peter Hain are 'a blatant act of foolhardy opportunism'. Although our former Welsh Party leader has some valid points, I cannot help feeling that it is not the best use of an opportunity to contribute 1,000 words to a national newspaper by a Liberal Democrat.

Lembit quite rightly says that we should not prejudge the case against Mr. Hain until the Electoral Commission (and or the Police) and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner have had an opportunity to conclude their inquiry. He is right, we should not be undermining that process.

Lembit also quite rightly points to the hypocrisy of some of those calling for Peter Hain's head. For example every single Plaid Cymru MP had to pay back to the taxpayer a four-figure sum after it was established that they had used public money for party political purposes. Yet they are the most vocal in calling for the Secretary of State for Wales to resign. There are similar issues regarding the Conservative Party as well. Both may argue that they were following advice but they are not permitting ignorance or inefficiency to be used as an excuse by Peter Hain.

Interestingly, Plaid Cymru are not singing from the same song sheet on this issue. As Vaughan Roderick reports on his blog Ieuan Wyn Jones told the press yesterday that we should await the outcome of investigations into Mr. Hain before judging him. Essentially, the same position that Lembit has adopted.

Despite all of this even Lembit must acknowledge that there is a political perspective that goes beyond the rules of natural justice. For some reason politicians are exempt from such considerations and no matter how hard one tries to change that, the media and the public at large will not play ball.

In this instance there are genuine questions for Mr. Hain to answer about why he used a third party 'think tank' to channel contributions to his campaign and also about the political pedigree of some of the donors. Isn't he even a little bit embarrassed that he received money from somebody who used to support the pro-apartheid National Party in South Africa?

David Cornock on his blog has highlighted a statement made by Mr. Hain in the House of Commons in June 2003 in which he said:

"It is of the greatest importance that the conduct of Members of the House meets, and is seen to meet, the high standards expected by the Wicks committee, and also by our constituents. Lapses, however rare, are very damaging to public confidence in the House and in our parliamentary democracy. If lapses occur, and are not seen to be tackled with sufficient rigour, the effect is many times worse. Our system for regulating standards of conduct must be transparent, fair and effective."

Hain cannot escape public scrutiny for standards that he, himself has set.

The odds are that Peter Hain will survive for now because Gordon Brown cannot afford to lose him, simply because of the knock-on effect a resignation will have on other members of his government whose financial affairs are under question. The two inquiries are quite convenient for him therefore. If Peter Hain is exonerated then he will stay, if he is found guilty of some misdemeanor then there will be an additional factor, which does not apply to the others, that can be used to justify his departure.

In the meantime, no matter how opportunistic it may appear, I can see no harm in keeping the pressure on Mr. Hain and the government on this matter. It is called effective scrutiny and it is what opposition politicians are there to do.
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