Steve Richards: Hain's passion for the job may be his downfall

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The Independent Online

The ministerial future of Peter Hain depends on the outcome of the inquiry by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

Senior Conservatives expect the investigation into the funding of his deputy leadership campaign last summer to take about four weeks, a nerve-racking period for the ambitious cabinet minister. I have no idea why Hain and his office did not declare all the donations for his campaign at the appropriate time. The inquiry will reach its conclusions soon. What I do know is that Hain wanted to become deputy leader with a passion that was irrational.

He should have listened more carefully to Roy Hattersley, a deputy leader for nearly 10 years, who described the job subsequently as a nightmare. It confers no automatic influence and yet means the holder has to be wholly loyal to the leader. Hain is a politician gripped by ideas and debate. A deputy leader is not allowed space for such luxuries. I doubt if Hain would have enjoyed the post as much as he assumed he would.

Still, Hain campaigned for the job of deputy for years. I recall noting that he spent the entire week at the TUC annual conference in Blackpool when he was Europe minister, not a brief directly connected with TUC matters. I asked one of his aides at the time whether Hain was building up allies because he wanted to be a candidate whenever the leadership became vacant. Without hesitation the aide told me that Hain did not think he could become leader but he wanted to be deputy. That was seven years ago.

In my conversations with him over the years he has also expressed an interest in being deputy, more consistently and for longer than any of the other candidates. He really wanted that job.

I suspect that when the vacancy finally arrived, Hain went for it with a careless enthusiasm. When his campaign got off to a faltering start he probably sought elusive victory with an even more passionate hunger. I am not surprised his campaign was better funded than his rivals. He saw it as a pivotal moment in his career. The pivotal moment coincided with a busy period for him as Northern Ireland Secretary. At the very least in the rushed excitement mistakes were made.

Hain's efforts have landed him in trouble without any glory. He fared badly in the campaign, out performed by lesser-known figures such as Jon Cruddas, and now he is fighting to save his political career.

He would have been better off if he had never taken part in the contest, let alone campaigned for it for much of the past decade. After all, look at what has happened to the winner. We saw and heard more of Harriet Harman before she won.

A version of this article appears on OpenHouse at www.independent.co.uk/openhouse

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