Outspoken Hain is made minister for 'Today' show

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Indy Politics

As one of Tony Blair's most outspoken ministers, Peter Hain's "licence to thrill" has long allowed him to say things that would have killed off the careers of less favoured members of the Government.

The Neath MP's move to Leader of the House of Commons will allow him to retain his penchant for plain speaking, while making the most of his impressive media skills.

His new job means that he will have an even wider brief to appear on television and radio, in effect replacing John Reid as minister for the Today programme.

Even before his elevation to the Cabinet, Mr Hain enjoyed a higher profile than more senior colleagues, first finding fame as a young anti-apartheid campaigner who led protests against South African sporting tours.

Peter Gerald Hain was born in South Africa on 16 February 1950 to the anti-apartheid activists Walter and Adelaine. He attended Pretoria Boys High School but his family was forced to flee the country when he was 16. Arriving in Britain, he studied at Emanuel School, Wandsworth, before taking a degree at Queen Mary College, London University, and a Masters at Sussex University.

His campaigns against the 1969 rugby and 1970 cricket tours brought him to such national prominence that the South African security services tried to frame him for a bank robbery in 1975, but he was acquitted. He married his wife, Patricia, the same year. They had two sons, but later separated. He is now a grandfather.

Mr Hain's first entanglement with British party politics was as chair of the Young Liberals but in 1976 he began a career as a trade union official. He joined Labour the following year.

He entered the Commons as MP for Neath at a 1991 by-election and swift promotion through the ranks followed in Opposition. When Labour came to power in 1997, he was made a minister at the Welsh Office.

He infuriated many in the party in Wales by acting as the campaign manager for Alun Michael in the selection battle with Rhodri Morgan to succeed Ron Davies as the party's leader in the principality.

But despite the accusations of control freakery and subsequent demise of Mr Michael, Downing Street was so impressed with his willingness to tackle his task that he was moved to the Foreign Office in 1999, before briefly serving as Energy minister in 2001.

It was as Europe minister, however, that he really hit the headlines, repeatedly stressing the benefits of the euro. In one interview with Le Figaro newspaper he was reported as saying that for Britain not to join the euro would be a "tragedy", and that some of those who opposed the euro were actually "the enemies of Europe".

Although he says he was quoted out of context, the remarks earned him a public slap on the wrists from the Chancellor's chief economic adviser, Ed Balls. "I tend to answer the questions I'm asked. I'm not as prudent as I might be," he said.

But he did the job so well that Mr Blair took the unusual step of allowing him to keep his post on the European Convention even after he was promoted to the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary.

Mr Hain's influence has always extended well beyond his brief. He has sat on no fewer than 21 cabinet committees at one time and weighed into Labour's internal debates on the side of the grass roots.

"Politics as a profession has been very seriously devalued by too much spinning from us at the beginning of our government," Mr Hain once said. "The public's appetite for clones, spin and soundbites has long gone."

He infuriated the Tory press last month by claiming that the new EU constitution was largely a "tidying-up exercise". The "licence to thrill" looks certain to stay in place.