Issue 245 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2000 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

From activist to apologist

'Labour doesn't want blind loyalty' argues Peter Hain. Just as well, says Pat Stack
Never a revolutionary, but he was a child of the left

In the midst of the leak mania that ran so high during the summer, the one leak that stood out was the memo from Tony Blair about Labour's falling popularity. For while the sharp decline in Labour support was seen by the failure to turn out the traditional Labour heartland vote, Blair's obsession was with losing 'Middle England'.

Therefore the memo did not for a moment address the major concerns of Labour voters: the state of the NHS, a wholly inadequate minimum wage, homelessness, poverty, education and student fees. Instead Blair's obsession was with being seen to be tough on refugees, harder on crime, and more supportive of the heterosexual family by playing down the Section 28 debate.

The memo exposed every instinct of the man. Not for nothing has he come to be seen as the champion of free enterprise and market-orientated economics, backed by a large dollop of moral authoritarianism. These traits have dominated the thoughts and actions of his government. For 18 desperate years people waited, only to be delivered a Labour government that is the most right wing social democratic government in Europe today.

So imagine my delight when I saw an article in the Observer from Labour Foreign Office minister Peter Hain entitled 'Labour Doesn't Want Blind Loyalty'. Underneath the subhead it read, 'It's not sycophancy the government needs...' Aha, I thought, this is more like the Peter Hain I used to know. He was the scourge of apartheid South Africa, buster-up of rugby matches, an anti-Nazi activist, and although he was never a revolutionary he was a child of the left with a vision of a better world.

His star has fallen rather sharply since that time. While never a true blue Blairite, he has nevertheless acted as apologist and left cover for his boss. Now, however, he was speaking out. This article was going to lay the sycophants to waste, condemn 'blind loyalty', and submit the government's record to stern examination, laying bare every shortcoming and swing to the right.

Headline writers, though, can be very misleading people, and I think this one must have been under enormous pressure of time and therefore only paid Peter's article the most cursory of glances. For if they had read it properly, surely a more suitable headline would have been 'Simply the Best'. The subhead could have said, 'No government of Britain has ever achieved more than this one. Peter Hain pays sycophantic homage to Tony Blair's first term in office.' For Hain's article was so sad it was funny. Addressed to those with whom he had marched and struggled, it chided us for our oppositionism and cynicism, and then made a string of claims that were simply breathtaking.

Take Hain's own field of responsibility, foreign policy. It is generally recognised that one of the quickest failures of the government was its inability to live up to Robin Cook's promise of an ethical foreign policy. Within weeks of Cook's statement it became clear it was business as usual. When Indonesia began repressing its internal opposition and attempting to annihilate the people of East Timor, it was with armoury supplied by Britain. The supplies had continued, we were told, because 'contracts had to be honoured'. That marked out how, behind the rhetoric, arms sales policy would remain largely unchanged.

Now the Treasury has announced officially what has been de facto the case from the beginning--there is no ethical foreign policy. Yet Hain clings to a few formulas and theses to insist that the wretched Cook's utterances still hold true.

Similarly with foreign aid. For most people, Clare Short's reign as 'aid queen' will be remembered by sneers about golden elephants and farcical bureaucratic wrangling between different government departments while people were being swept away by floods. For 25,000 Kurds in Turkey, British aid has meant enthusiastic government support for a dam-building project that will sweep them from their homes.

Hain, though, wishes to proclaim the record and according to him, throughout the world, Labour's foreign policy is viewed as 'progressive, modern and on the side of justice, human rights and freedom'. He then hails military intervention in Sierra Leone as further proof of this. Honestly, I'm not making this up!

Having cured the world of much of its ills, Hain then turns to the home front, where apparently Keir Hardie, Clem Attlee and Nye Bevan would be dancing in the streets if they could see what New Labour has achieved. No, I'm still not making this up.

Hardie, apparently, would have witnessed his 100-year dream with the coming to fruition of the minimum wage. Hmm, possibly. After all, 3.60 an hour was a lot of money 100 years ago.

Attlee and Bevan would be filled with joy by the fact that 'there are 1 million more people at work since the general election'. Quite why two ministers who presided over full employment would see this as a crowning achievement escapes me. Nor can I quite imagine Bevan being delighted with the state of the NHS. A PFI man? I think not.

Sadly, while Hain tries to conjure up such figures to give the government legitimacy, his leader pours scorn on Labour's past. Indeed, quite what the Campbells and Mandelsons of this world would have made of Hardie or Bevan I don't know. I suspect they'd have had them expelled.

At the beginning of the article Hain explained what made him different from those of us he marched with. He wrote: 'I was never an all or nothing person, rather an all or something person.'

Ah Peter, but when the something is so small nobody notices, what then? As the old song about James Larkin goes:

We're still asking, Peter. You, however, seem to have settled for less than little and bedecked it in the clothing of far reaching achievement.

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