Leading article: Hain must go. No ifs, no buts

Share
Related Topics

Peter Hain's attempt to "get on with my cabinet jobs" is unlikely to succeed. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – and Wales – admits that he has broken the law, by failing to declare on time £103,000 of donations to his campaign for the Labour deputy leadership. Curiously, the law is unclear about the penalties for late disclosure, but Mr Hain is also being investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. The failure to declare funding is, almost by definition, also a breach of Parliament's rules on the Register of Members' Interests.

The most severe penalty the Commissioner can impose would be to suspend Mr Hain from membership of the Commons. By convention, he would not continue to serve as a minister if he were censured in this way. But the Prime Minister could save time, embarrassment and a modicum of honour by inviting Mr Hain to leave the Government forthwith.

Mr Hain's best line of defence might have been that his campaign for the deputy leadership was miserably unsuccessful. His political career could hardly be said to have gained from the money raised so chaotically. That would have been beside the point, but at least it would have shown a little of the self-deprecating humour that can sometimes get a politician out of a tight spot.

Mr Hain's excuses have been as lacking in credibility as they have been in humour. When he published what he called "full details" of his undeclared donations last week, he said: "I gave my campaign for office within the Labour Party second priority to my government responsibilities." "I was busy" is not an excuse normally accepted by a court. Nor is it one accepted by his own Work and Pensions Department, which runs a poster campaign declaring: "No ifs, no buts: benefit fraud is a crime."

The important part of Mr Hain's statement last week was his claim that "immediately I became aware on 29 November 2007 that these donations had not been declared within the required timescale, I took steps to inform the Electoral Commission". This was stretching the truth. What he said on 29 November was that he had failed to register a donation of £5,000 from Jon Mendelsohn, the man later brought in by Gordon Brown as chief Labour Party fundraiser – a donation, incidentally, that does not appear on the "full" list Mr Hain published last week. It was not until 3 December that he admitted there were further donations that had not been "registered as they should have been", and that he would make a full declaration in due course. In both cases, his statements were prompted not by answers he solicited from his campaign team, but by journalists' questions.

Mr Brown's attempt to push funding irregularities into a box marked "Tony Blair is history" makes it particularly important to take a firm line with Mr Hain. Especially after a week in which Mr Blair and large sums of money have again been in the headlines, albeit in the different moral context of the former prime minister's private earnings. Mr Blair took an aggressive approach to Labour Party finance in which ends justified means.

At the start of his premiership, it simply failed to occur to Mr Blair that there might be a conflict of interest between Bernie Ecclestone's £1m donation and government policy on tobacco advertising. Towards the end of his time, he thought he could get away with circumventing his own laws to take secret loans from people he would later try to put in the Lords. This newspaper claims some of the credit for the failure of the cash-for-honours scam, and we thought Mr Brown had learnt the lessons of his predecessor's cavalier approach.

So he had, but the re-education process has been imperfect. The story of the £600,000 given to Labour by David Abrahams through intermediaries revealed that some of the personnel and practices of the Blair era had been allowed to continue into the Age of Change. Mr Brown found his coat was snagged on two hooks that might have implicated him in the culture of his predecessor.

One was Harriet Harman, whose successful campaign for Labour's deputy leadership, with Mr Brown's discreet support, took £5,000 from a third party without realising it came from Mr Abrahams. Her "honest mistake" defence was credible enough. The other was Mr Mendelsohn, who knew about Mr Abrahams's unconventional funding when he arrived at Labour HQ, and said that he had been intending to straighten it out when the story broke in November. It was a less convincing excuse than Ms Harman's, but for want of evidence to the contrary, it was only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Mr Hain's casual attitude to his campaign finances provides a third hook on which Mr Brown may find himself and his government held back by the culture of the Blair years. In order to make a clean break, Mr Hain must go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This care provider provides hom...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dov Charney, the founder and former CEO of American Apparel  

American Apparel has finally fired Dov Charney, but there's no reason to celebrate just yet

Alice Nutting
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
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