THE DIARY: `Excuse me, we have No 10 on the line'

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The Independent Online
Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and our Whitehall sleuth in the Welsh Office put his head round my door. The reshuffle has finally started.

Five jumpy hours of hanging about and my pager vibrated: "Call Kate Garvey at No 10." The Prime Minister's vivacious diary secretary asked if I could come over. By this time I had departed for my London base in Putney and so arrangements were made for a phone call 20 minutes later.

"Is that Mr Hain? Downing Street switchboard; can you wait while I put you through to the Prime Minister?"

A few clicks, a long pause and a friendly greeting. "Peter, I want you to go to the Foreign Office." It's a huge job. The Middle East peace process. The Indian subcontinent. Derek Fatchett, who died tragically, was one of our stars when he did it."

I was delighted. Although it had been a real privilege helping deliver the historic devolution to Wales, I had been the longest-serving Welsh minister, co-ordinating a tough referendum fight, a gruelling campaign to elect Alun Michael as Welsh Labour leader after the trauma of Ron Davies's surreal resignation, and, finally, the Assembly election campaign for a Wales Labour Party split by 18 months of internal conflict.

All on top of demanding ministerial responsibilities. In any case most of my job had now been devolved to the Welsh Assembly. So promotion to such a senior post is terrific.

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ANOTHER Downing Street switchboard call. Robin Cook was on the line with a warm welcome. It's hard to keep a secret in Wales and I soon had to start fending off questions from Welsh journalists, since Downing Street was, quite properly, not confirming the appointment.

My predecessor and new colleague as Europe minister, Geoff Hoon, didn't know as soon as I did. He was meeting ministers in Israel and was woken up at 1am by the Prime Minister.

Reshuffles are like a jigsaw: one appointment impacts upon another as people are contacted, moved and sacked in a complex process of person- management, joy and tears.

Mick, my dependable Cockney driver, had agreed to come across with me, and we called in early at the Welsh Office for a rushed goodbye.

I gave a bottle of Glenfiddich to my by now ex-private secretary. We had become good friends. At least, though, we were both heading for jobs higher up. The most difficult parting is when you leave government and your p/s feels just as aggrieved as you do.

At the door of the ambassadors' entrance to the FO, there was a shout "Peter!". I turned as journalists outside No 10 clattered towards me, cameras running.

I had wondered whether the mandarin culture of the FO would be much stiffer than the informality I had cultivated in Wales. But my new private secretary and I quickly agreed to operate on first-name terms. I had tried that unsuccessfully in the Welsh Office. "Hallo Judith, Derek, Richard, George etc, please call me Peter." "Yes Minister," they replied, and so it remained.

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IN THE old seat of empire in King Charles Street, off Whitehall, I was plunged straight into a meeting with the Pakistanis about Kashmir, and had to deliver an evening speech about reconciliation between Islam and the West to a packed reception in the room where seven European nations ratified the Treaty of Locarno in December 1925.

Friday's morning papers had 30-year-old pictures of me in my rebellious youth organising anti-apartheid protests. My two sons, now the same age as I was then, don't think the flares and the hair-style are very cool.

Others, too, are enjoying the irony. A courtesy visit from the Indian High Commissioner began with a discussion of Mahatma Gandhi's youthful experience in South Africa when he developed his philosophy of non-violence. My new officials comment that it is actually an advantage having a minister with an anti-colonial background. New Labour, New Foreign Office? A meeting with the Israeli ambassador goes well, too, especially as we discover that his son has the excellent judgement to be a Chelsea fan.

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A GOOD part of the Welsh Office in Whitehall could be fitted into my grand new rooms overlooking the rear of Downing Street and Horse Guards Parade. But the computers seem Victorian and I search for a quill pen icon on the screen. A promise is made for a new Windows-based PC on my desk - this week, I hope.

Robin Cook has rearranged responsibilities, making me effectively minister for the Commonwealth, on top of the Middle East, non-nuclear proliferation, the environment, human rights and the United Nations. Oh, and South Africa too. The High Commission is delighted. But the news will probably be the final straw for those old apartheid warriors, doubtless still lurking somewhere near my childhood home in Pretoria.

Peter Hain, MP for Neath, is Minister of State at the Foreign Office.

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