Peter Hain: 'I will miss Robin's acerbic humour'

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The Independent Online

I first got to know Robin on the platform of Tribune rallies in the late 1970s and 1980s. He always had the ability to articulate to any meeting the unique combination of real passion about Labour's values of social justice, equality and human rights, while at the same time combining it with clear strategic thinking and practical pragmatism.

He could be quite prickly and aloof but I believe that was mainly because he was quite shy, which may come as a surprise to those who only knew the public persona. He had that rare ability to inspire people and rouse a meeting in a way that has gone out of fashion in politics, and a rapier-like mind which could cut to shreds his opponents.

He could equally step into a local Co-op hall and rouse the party faithful or speak to a business meeting and do the same. He had that capacity to reach different audiences, and made Labour members feel really good about themselves, which at times has been all too rare.

He was badly hurt at being switched from the Foreign Office to become Leader of the Commons. I remember sharing a whisky with him in his room, which I was later to take over as Leader of the House, when he told me his feelings.

He will be remembered as a modernising influence on the Commons, and I carried on his mantle. He was a House of Commons man. It is an often-used phrase, but it fits Robin like a glove. He loved the place. In articles for The Independent, he made it clear you can be against Iraq and for Labour. At the 2005 general election, he went on a virtual one-man election tour of marginal seats carrying that message to key audiences, including many Muslim voters. There are probably a number of marginal seats that might not have been won had it not been for Robin's influence. He carried a lot of clout with Labour voters who were alienated over the Iraq war.

His acerbic wit and his cutting humour will be sadly missed in the Commons. But I shall personally miss his solidarity and support and his personal warmth, which only those who knew him well will have known.

The author is the Leader of the House of Commons.