In 1976 Peter Hain was tried for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. It was the second time he’d stood trial - and the second time he’d been acquitted. Seven years later, he was standing for election.
The Labour heavyweight, who worked as a minister in both the Brown and Blair governments, was also a noted anti-apartheid campaigner and student radical who featured heavily in the letters pages of the Daily Telegraph.
Hain, now the shadow Welsh secretary, explains his transformation from a agitator to parliamentarian in his new memoir, Outside In.
“I just thought it was the right time to do write it,” he tells Huff Post UK. But instead of being another “kiss and tell, battle book” about the tensions between Blair and Brown, it tells a wider story. Of his parents’ activism in South Africa, and how he continued to fight against the separation between black and white people in the country when he and his family moved to London.
Hain maintains that during his trials for bank robbery in 1976, and conspiracy in 1972 (where he writes it took the judge seven or eight minutes to read out the full list charges against him) he never harboured parliamentary ambitions. And for him, politics is more than a job.
“It is a mission and if it isn't that for you then I think that you've gotta ask yourself why you're engaged in it,” he says.
“I found myself in a position which I thought it was possible to change things inside the system and I managed to do that, but you need both.
“You need people badgering and pressuring the system from the outside as well as people who are progressive and sympathetic on the inside.”
He claims he’s “equally happy” in government as he was as a radical campaigner.
“I think it was a great privilege and opportunity, tremendous opportunity, to negotiate the Northern Ireland settlement, to stop arms traffickers in Africa, to form miners’ compensation scheme.
“The things I feel I achieved in government , you couldn’t do those things unless you had been right at the top of government. It would have just been impossible. So, I think there were things that I was able to achieve but at the same time you definitely do need people who are pressuring people from the outside.”
Which might explain why he says he feels some affinity with anti-establishment groups: “I was really supportive of Occupy London, he says.
“I think when you come from my background, inevitably you see things rather differently and you’re viewed rather differently. But I’ve been right at the top of the system from the inside and I’ve been on the outside. You see things in a rather different way.”
For Hain now, the political landscape is different. His book ends with Labour’s defeat and his suggestions for how the party can get back on their feet - something he says Ed Miliband is helping make happen.
“People were not listening to us in government, I would say, a year or so before we lost power and it takes time for people to listen to you again.”
The party now, he says, remind him of “Labour in the late 1990s.” When Tony Blair had just taken over the party? “Yeah, I think so, I think there's a much greater determination to win and to you know, to pull together.”
Labour are also looking towards power in 2015, with shadow chancellor Ed Balls provoking fury from Unite, Unison and the GMB by suggesting that an incoming Labour government would have to keep some cuts.
Hain, who used to work at the communication workers’ union (CWU) says he understands their anger - but they’re wrong.
“If there were any moves to dissafiliation than with that dissafiliation they’d lose their voice. And it would be a mistake,” he says.
The Neath MP, who used to be a member of the Liberals, now the Liberal Democrats, is also open to a progressive partnership in politics. He says while Labour will fight for a majority “I think what’s most important is that the progressive side of politics is the majority, and we have, that has been thwarted by you know, this particular coalition. , I hope that the Liberal Democrats will go back to their true principles by the time of the next election instead of becoming full on Tories,” he says.
“I can see there being a split in the Liberal Democrats by the time of the next election, I don't think the Conservatives will win it, I think there's every chance.”
Despite career lows, like having to stand down from Cabinet briefly after failing to declare a donation during his campaign to become deputy leader (“my biggest political mistake”) Hain’s continuing the fight. And one more thing, he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder - or many regrets:
“Life is too short to have chips on your shoulder. If you do have one I think you are the problem, rather than the chip.”
Outside In, Peter Hain's memoir is available from Biteback Publishing now.
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