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

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: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick

I’ll support England’s women, but it’s not like men’s football – and that’s a good thing

Matthew Norman
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue