Thursday 17 January 2008
Miles Kington: The truth about Peter Hain (if you can stay awake for it)
I am quite often stopped in the street by little old ladies who ask me to help them to the other side and then, as we are slowly trying to defeat the traffic, fill in time by begging me to give them the lowdown on this whole Peter Hain business.
Is it still going on (they want to know)? Has it all been cleared up by now? Is it safe to come out again yet and give hundreds of thousands of pounds to people who want so desperately to become Deputy Labour Leader, or, failing that, to come fifth out of six in the contest, managing only to beat Hazel Blears? How easy is it now for little old ladies in the street to set up think tanks to help launder Peter Hain's money? Or are there better ways of investing savings?
Phew! Faced with such encouraging curiosity about politics, I am taking time out today to bring you a full Peter Hain briefing document, which will tell you all you need to know, or, at least, all I know.
What is Peter Hain's cabinet post?
What are his posts?
Oh, right. What are his cabinet posts?
Work. Pensions. Wales.
So he looks after work and pensions in Wales, does he?
No. He looks after work. And pensions. And Wales, part time, a bit like what's-his-name looks after Scotland part time.
No. Wes Browne.
Wes Browne? Doesn't he play in defence for Manchester United?
You're right. Sorry. Des Browne. Look, let's start again. You ask me what Peter Hain's real job is.
What's Peter Hain's real job?
To be boring, and to have his head called for.
I'm not sure I...
The thing is, in any one government at any one time there is always at least one cabinet member whose delivery is so monotone that everyone can be relied upon to go into a trance while listening. Jack Straw is a good example. Which one of us has not at some point tried to follow a Jack Straw explanation on Radio 4's Today programme, and found himself 10 minutes later, face down in a cereal bowl, fast asleep?
Hain seems to have the same priceless hallucinatory effect. But there also has to be someone in the public eye at any given moment whose resignation is being clamoured for non-stop. Peter Hain is multi-tasking at that right now. His head must roll.
And will his head roll?
Don't be silly. Nobody resigns these days. There were endless calls for Geoff Hoon to resign over Iraq, remember? He never went. Last year Ian Blair was called on daily to resign as London police chief. He too learnt that it isn't the public making all the noise, only the press and media. He is still there. All you have to do is ignore them. Then they pick on someone else.
Why does it cost so much to come second from bottom in an election for Deputy Labour Leader?
Shouldn't we know?
So why don't we?
Because at the moment Peter Hain is successfully using the great rule of political stalling which states: "Delay giving your answer until everyone has forgotten what the question was." It is used by all government inquiries and royal commissions, all the way down to individuals like David Abrahams and Tessa Jowell. Nobody can now remember why they wanted Tessa Jowell to resign.
Quite so. Even Hain's colleagues are now beginning to feel relaxed about sticking up for him. Schools man Ed Balls was quoted yesterday as saying that however important it was that Hain answered these personal financial questions, "it is just as important that the government gets on with the job of delivery to the British people".
What on earth does that mean?
It means that Ed Balls is learning the lingo. He could be an up-and-coming Mr Boring before we know where we are.
And where are we?
The other side of the street. You're on your own now.
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