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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Peter Hain redux

There are some who might argue that being in opposition has given Peter Hain a fresh start. He has thrown off the shackles of office and can now be as critical of the government as he likes. He also now has time to do the things he wants to do, such as write a biography of Nelson Mandela for example.

Mr. Hain has certainly rediscovered his constituency if this article in the South Wales Evening Post is any guide. The Neath MP has taken on board the concerns of some of his constituents and convened a meeting of officials from ABM Health Trust, Neath Port Talbot Hospital, the Community Health Council and elected representatives for this Friday. He wants to know if there is any truth in claims that Neath Port Talbot Hospital is being downgraded.

We should welcome Mr. Hain to the party. After all local Assembly Members of all parties have been raising these concerns with the Health Minister for nearly a year now. Indeed I had a tour of the hospital last month specifically to air these matters with management. During that time we have barely had a peep from the Neath MP on this issue. Still, better late than never.

Mr. Hain is also securing headlines with claims in his new book that Nelson Mandela expressed fury to the UK government over Britain's decision to join with the Americans in invading Iraq. We have already learnt from recent publications that the much rumoured rift between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was as bad as we have always thought it was, despite persistent denials by Mr. Hain, who painted a picture of domestic bliss and harmony whenever he was asked about the matter. We should not be surprised therefore that Peter has left it until now to tell us about this little spat:

Mr Hain recalled: "He said: 'A big mistake, Peter, a very big mistake. It is wrong. Why is Tony doing this after all his support for Africa? This will cause huge damage internationally'."

He said last night that he had never encountered his old friend as angry as he was during that conversation: "He was virtually breathing fire down the phone on this and feeling a sense of betrayal."

He went on: "It wasn't a pre-planned call that I had been expecting. He was just put through by Downing Street. Because we were friends he was probably more frank with me than he would have been if he had been speaking with a prime minister or president."

Mr Hain added that Mr Mandela was particularly distressed and frustrated because he was an admirer of the Blair government's record in Africa, where it intervened in Sierra Leone, increased aid and campaigned for a ban on landmines.

"He just felt that all of this had been completely blown out of the water by the Iraq invasion," Mr Hain said. "It did not surprise me because many people felt the same way. I knew that the sort of constituency in Britain and the world that Nelson Mandela naturally spoke for felt that we had made the wrong decision.

"He is a supremely polite and diplomatic person, but at the same time very independently minded."

Mr Hain said: "I listened very carefully to what he had to say and I explained that I thought Tony was acting out of conviction."

The former minister said he relayed Mr Mandela's comments to Downing Street – and told Mr Blair in person about the tirade. "They knew the government was being assailed with criticism on all sides. It was one that was added to the pile," he said.

A lot more details of the behind scenes jealousies and conflicts of the Blair/Brown Governments are likely to come out as more and more MPs and former Ministers put their thoughts into print. Peter Hain's revelations can be just added to the pile. The question is do we really care?
The former minister said he relayed Mr Mandela's comments to Downing Street – and told Mr Blair in person about the tirade.
Perhaps it is too much to ask a politician concerned about his career why Mr Hain didn't go public at the time. However, I would be interested to hear Mr Blair quizzed on this interchange.
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