Peter Hain has always carried a whiff of hypocrisy during his time in politics, as a campaigner, MP and Cabinet Minister. He rose to prominence with his Stop The Tour campaigns first by disrupting the1969 South African rugby team tour with pitch invasions and goading the Labour government into forcing the MCC to withdraw its tour invitation to the South African cricket team the following year. During the rugby disruptions Hain complained about police treatment of pitch invaders and could never understand his responsibility for any of the violence that occurred. He still doesn't. Instead he basks in the idea he was ahead of his time which may be the case.
Hain refers to the recitation given at the funeral of John Harris, the only white person to be executed by the apartheid regime. It's more or less where the hypocrisy starts. Harris, a primary school teacher, planted a bomb at Johannesburg Railway Station. The bomb injured twenty-three people and killed a seventy-seven year old woman. Harris belonged to the African Resistance Movement (ARM) which believed terrorism should be employed against the apartheid government. Hain's hypocrisy is transparent. He claims he was opposed to violence but "my support for the (the African National Congress) was never to be confused with support for 'terrorism'. The vital distinction is that the violence of guerrilla movements is directed against the oppressive apartheid state whereas the violence of terrorists such as Al Qaeda is directed indiscriminately against innocent bystanders." He excuses those "occasions when sabotage carried out by the ANC unintentionally caught bystanders ....(as)....valid and important". Yet Harris specifically targeted white people going about their daily lives. Claims he did not intend to kill were hollow. If there was no intention to kill, the bomb would never have been planted.
The apartheid regime itself was based on - and regularly used - violence against its opponents, including murder and intimidation. It was a regime built on fear and paranoia. Attempts by the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) to deal with subversion were brutal but pitiful. They led to the downfall of John Voster as Prime Minister while two botched attempts to reduce Hain's influence by using the legal system and letter bomb campaigns were counter-productive. Hain's sporting boycotts had some effect of raising the political consciousness of South Africans but the development of television was important in bringing home to white South Africans just how isolated they were. By establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the post-apartheid regime enabled all groups in South Africa to admit their responsibility for the past. Hain accepts none.
Hain's political ambition and opportunism was exposed when he left the Liberals for the Labour Party. He remained active in a variety of fringe groups characterised by their extremist views of world politics. He calls it libertarian socialism, the cynical might describe it in less charitable terms. When Hain describes "no meeting of minds", he usually means people who disagree with him.!! He founded the Anti-Nazi League which led to confrontation with the National Front. Although he claims he used his influence to urge restraint, violence was as inevitable as fights between football hooligans on match days. Hain helped introduce changes in the process of selecting Labour leaders and supported Tony Benn's bid for the Labour deputy leadership before falling out with him over Benn's opposition to the exclusion of Militant from the Party. Before then Hain blundered badly by dissenting from Kinnock's stance on the Miners' Strike, notwithstanding Scargill's political agenda to topple the government.
Even allowing for the duplicity which appears to be the stock in trade for politicians, Hain's hypocrisy reverberates throughout the book. If the Conservatives act incorrectly it's described as "scandalous". Yet when the Iraq war was declared Hain pleads he was acting honestly, in good faith. He acknowledges that Labour policy was perceived as a "big lie" but seeks to shift the blame on to the French who wouldn't support moves for a second UN resolution and the Americans who had a war plan but no peace strategy. He even blames the neo-Conservatives in America and tries to absolve Blair, yet it was Blair who tied Labour to Bush's policy, privately agreeing almost six months before war broke out that he would support the invasion of Iraq with or without a second UN resolution. He credits himself with having played a decisive role in resolving the political impasse in Northern Ireland but does so in the underhand way of quoting a journalist singing his praises.
In 2006 Hain made an unsuccessful bid for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party but was speedily eliminated. In 2008 he was accused of failing to declare receiving over £100,000 in campaign contributions. His response was to deny doing anything wrong, then to claim it was an oversight and finally to accuse many Conservatives of reporting donations late, complaining, "While I was being hounded, those who had committed the very same offence of reporting donations were not". Within two weeks of the story breaking he resigned from his ministerial post. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to prosecute on the grounds he was not the "regulated donee". He criticises the Electoral Commission for not knowing the rules but it appears his own solicitors didn't know the rules either. He fails to recognise that at a time New Labour was perceived as having one rule for the politicians and another for the electorate any whiff of hypocrisy would create a stink.
When Labour lost the 2010 election Hain rapidly became an advocate for a Labour-Lib Dem alliance to form a "progressive coatition". He blamed Nick Clegg for its failure claiming he was, " more in tune with the Tory right-wing agenda of savage public spending cuts". He barely acknowledges the role of New Labour in facilitating over-spending by reducing banking regulation. As ever, Hain's world is myopic and self serving. Nontheless the book is better than the average autobiography. Four stars.