Matthew Norman: From anti-apartheid hero to New Labour amnesiac

Share
Related Topics

It is with some distress that we note a certain scepticism regarding Peter Hain's defence to the charge of dodgy dealings in funding his campaign to become deputy leader of the Labour Party. Those known to the former prime minister Mr Tony Blair as "cynics and sneerers" appear wilfully unconvinced by Mr Hain's insistence that his failure to declare some £100,000 in donations was due solely to inadvertence. In other words, he forgot to ask what was going on.

What they themselves forget is that Mr Hain has suffered so grievously from memory loss for so long that his rise to the Cabinet ranks among the more moving triumph-over-tragedy stories of the age.

He is by no means the only chronic amnesiac to achieve high office under New Labour. One example among many was the failure of David Blunkett – a man capable of memorising the contents of myriad pages of briefings each week – to recall intervening in the visa application of his mistress's nanny.

Yet whereas that was a one-off failure of the kind that sporadically afflicts us all in middle age, Mr Hain's amnesia is of an entirely different character. The poor man simply forgot who he was. Exactly when it happened is impossible to pinpoint, but at some point between entering Parliament in 1991 and joining the Government in 1997, all memory of having once been a heroic warrior for social justice was wiped from his neural pathways, enabling the erstwhile firebrand who did so much to publicise the iniquity of apartheid to mutate into the aggressive defender of the sanctions policy estimated to have caused the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.

Then he forgot his passionate opposition to the invasion of Iraq, which prevented him joining Robin Cook in resigning (although to his great credit, when the scale of the disaster became clear, the memory came flooding back). Later still, he forgot his allegiance to Mr Blair and mutated into a vocal fan of Gordon Brown's.

Exactly how he developed this curious ailment is equally mysterious. Myself, I can't help brooding on potential links between overexposure to ultraviolet rays (Neath, the seat held by Westminster's leading Judith Chalmers tribute act, is Britain's rainiest constituency) and forgetfulness.

Others may have been wondering whether the Progressive Policies Forum, the under-rated think tank, might consider taking the relationship between amnesia and the rapacious quest for political power as the subject for its keenly awaited debut pamphlet.

Lest anyone be misled by the words "policies" and "forum", we now learn that the PPF "was prepared and able to assist" in donating to Mr Hain's campaign. Little wonder, then, that it made no progress, debated no policies and provided a forum for nothing but the current debate as to how long it can be before Mr Hain leaves the Cabinet to spend more time with his sunlounger.

Whether so durable and slippery an operator can entirely be written off remains unclear, but since he is obliged to pay the Labour Party 15 per cent of campaign contributions – almost £30,000 – and has promised to pay back a further £25,000 loaned, interest-free, by the PPF, this is not a convenient moment to lose his ministerial salary.

If he must go, he will not quickly be forgotten. For one thing, his achievement in spending twice as much as his rivals to finish fifth out of six in a field of selling platers, beating only the titanic figure of Hazel Blears, will linger in the memory. More poignantly, he will long be recalled as a poster boy for a political age in which remembering the beliefs that drove people into politics in the first place became an unaffordable inconvenience.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum