Friday, January 11, 2008 

No credibility, but what about dignity?

Oh how he wishes he could.

Extraordinary and incredible are overused adjectives, but they are surely more than valid terms to describe Peter Hain's startling failure to declare more than £100,000 of donations given to his campaign for the Labour deputy leadership. Hain's explanation, that he was in effect too busy to be drawn into such logistical matters as informing the electoral commission of the huge sums given to him by his backers, both in the private sector and unions, is both not a excuse while being a insight into New Labour as a whole. Time and again it has treated with contempt the rules that the rest of us take for granted. It informs us that as well as having rights, we also have responsibilities. How very New Labour that those same responsibilities never seem to apply to them, whether it's waging illegal wars, undermining the very rule of law itself over the SFA investigation into BAE's Saudi slush fund, or detaining foreign "terror suspects" indefinitely without charge.

Like with the Abrahams debacle, as the hours have gone by since the Grauniad broke the sum that Hain had forgotten about on Tuesday, the whole story has only grown murkier and murkier. We now know that some of the money was not given to Hain directly but to a thinktank called the Progressive Policy Forum. This is a thinktank which seems to have done absolutely no thinking whatsoever; it has no website, and one of its trustees, David Underwood, was directly involved in the Hain campaign. It looks incredibly like being a front organisation, the sort which tax evaders set up to direct their profits through a haven. The BBC is now reporting that two of the donors to the thinktank did not know that their money was in fact being used to fund Hain's campaign, although neither has any problem with it being used for that purpose. It looks increasingly likely that this was not any case of forgetting or being distracted, but that if it hadn't been for the Abrahams then this would never have came to light. Why else would a separate organisation have been used to funnel the money through to Hain except to hide its source in case it was found out? As it's turned out, Hain has had to declare those who donated in any case, with it taking over a month for Hain to break the bad news to his benefactors.

You could perhaps accept such largess if Hain had won the contest: in the event, he came second last, just ahead of the ghastly Blairite automaton Hazel Blears. Most of the cash was apparently spent on adverts in the Daily Mirror, and on a mail out to Labour and union members. The message was apparently so inspiring that the majority threw the unsolicited junk straight in the bin and vowed not to vote for the perma-tanned minister who long ago abandoned his previously impeccable credentials. In the eventuality, any who might have thought about voting for Hain instead plumped for Jon Cruddas, who despite voting for the Iraq war was far and away the best candidate, the only one who might just have tempted the otherwise long abandoned belief that Labour might again think about the many and not just the few.

Instead, Hain's "forgetfulness" has just brought the whole dampening down mess over funding back to the fore. Like the Labour party with Abrahams, his campaign seems to have thought it would get away with covering up where the money really came from, although for now none of those who have donated have been so apparently happy to make things worse by contradicting what the Labour party originally said. While the downfall of John Major's government can be linked directly back to Black Wednesday, the sleaze scandals of Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton were final nails in the coffin. Again, at least both of them were out to personally profit from their actions, not just to carry debts which Hain's campaign never needed to have had in the first place. The irony is that Hain is now the head of the department of works and pensions: if someone on benefits, or especially tax credits is overpaid, they don't get off by saying they accidentally spent it by mistake; they're forced into poverty if necessary in paying it back.

Hain has lost any credibility he had left. If he has any dignity remaining, he'll go back on his word and resign as well.

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Monday, May 07, 2007 

Goodbye so soon?

Good riddance then to John Reid. Even by the standards set by recent Home Secretaries, and we have the Safety Elephant, Shagger Blunkett and Jack Straw's ignominious reigns to consider, he was most certainly the worst. No sooner had he entered the job than he was immediately caving in to numerous campaigns that the Sun had started, interfering in the Craig Sweeney case and as a result ensuring that he didn't receive a tougher sentence. He went along with the Sun's ludicrous, idiotic and inhumane plan to turn old Ministry of Defence bases into prisons quick sharp, only to find that the local residents weren't much enamored with the solutions of everyone's favourite daily tabloid. He recently delivered some of the most inflammatory and downright dangerous rhetoric on immigration, thinking only of how it might reignite the passion that the tabloids had originally felt for him, only for it to have evaporated when the prison overcrowding crisis kicked in.

Historically, Reid is going to be seen as the bruising straight-talker who said that his new department was "not fit for purpose", further demoralising the very people he needed to get on his side. Within a year of taking the job, he's ripped it up and effectively started it again: this week will see the creation of the Ministry of Justice, with its Orwellian overtones highlighted by how it's going to be run by the unelected, ex-flatmate of the outgoing prime minister.

Reid's decision to return to the backbenches, according to him purely because of a desire to "recharge his batteries" and enjoy his family and football more, means that his reforms will go on without the person who has brutally pushed them through being there to take the blame when they inevitably turn sour. This is in fact only the last act in such a pattern: Reid has spent the last 10 years in 9 different ministerial jobs, and in at least the last couple he's moved out before he could take the flak for his own changes.

His short stint as health secretary has come in for heavy criticism for the way he characteristically acted like a bull in a china shop, ordering ever more reforms and being involved in the new pay contract for consultants, which recently came under fire after the National Audit Office found they had been paid more for doing less work than they were when the deal was signed.

As defence secretary, supposedly his ideal job, he announced the deployment of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, while claiming that their itinerary while there involved only reconstruction and that he'd rather that they return home with firing a single shot. Nearly two years on, and dozens more body bags have returned, while the Taliban has regrouped and increasingly adopted the tactics of the Iraqi insurgency.

Quite why he's really decided to resign now is more difficult to work out. We know that he and Brown loathe each other in a way only two rival Scots can; yet Brown was apparently prepared to stick with the thug, maybe because it would mean that one of his pals wouldn't have to carry the can when the next scandal arrives. Even so, it doesn't seem possible that there isn't some sort of maneuvering going on here. Reid might well be thinking that Brown is doomed to failure, and that he could be the man to pick up the pieces when Labour is turned out at the next election, but this seems improbable: the party would almost certainly turn to someone younger, probably Miliband, not an old bruiser like Reid who would antagonise the party and grassroots rather than unite it.

There are several other theories worth considering. Reid could be in effect taking one for the Blairite team, sacrificing himself so that Brown is forced into keeping some of the dead Blairite wood he would have otherwise cleared out. Most people thought that Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt and probably some others are almost certainly going to be out on their hides, and many would think not before time. Reid's move could cause Brown to reconsider. Alternatively, Reid might have jumped before he was pushed, thinking that he would have gone no further and he's now free to plot and snipe as much as he likes, whatever he says to the media now. Or he could simply, however unlikely it seems, be telling the truth.

In any case, not only are we getting rid of Blair, we're getting rid of another bastard at the same time. If that's not worth a mild celebration of some sort, I don't know what is. We can at least take heart that the next home secretary can't be any worse. Can they?

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