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Peter Hain, one-time anti-apartheid campaigner turned Cabinet Minister, here describes his fascinating political life both outside and inside mainstream politics. For more than four decades he has been an active campaigner and politician, during which he was involved in some of the most important events of this period.
Hain starts his account with the story of his early life in South Africa as the son of anti-apartheid campaigners at a time when this was a dangerous thing to be. When his parents eventually felt they were no longer safe to stay in South Africa, the Hain family moved to London where they continued the struggle, with young Peter gradually becoming a major player in the British anti-apartheid movement, leading the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign (the proposed all-white South African cricket team tour of England). During this period, Hain was very much outside mainstream politics and in fact was tried for conspiracy and, rather surreally, for bank robbery – charges he clearly believes were politically motivated. Hence, his description of himself as an outsider.
Having joined the Labour party and working for the Union of Communication Workers, Hain’s political career as an ‘insider’ began with his election to Parliament in 1991. During a lengthy Cabinet career, Hain held a number of positions though never quite the top rank ones. From his own account, Hain was neither a party hack nor involved to any great extent in the in-house political manoeuvring of the Labour Party. Instead, his aim seems always to have been to achieve something substantive in each of his roles – following the mantra ‘all or something’ rather than ‘all or nothing’. As European Minister, he was involved in the negotiations that subsequently led to the Lisbon Treaty; he was a minister in the Welsh Office during the devolution referendum campaign; he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the St Andrews Agreement was reached, resulting in the restoration of devolved government.
Hain writes interestingly and enthusiastically about all these events, and if he perhaps blows his own trumpet a little too loudly at times, well, that’s a common failing in political memoirs. He also gives us a little on the Blair-Brown saga, but thankfully not too much. I found this book a refreshing change because of Hain’s concentration on the politics rather than the politicians of his time in office – it’s also better written than many political autobiographies. Whether you agree with his politics or not, this is a well-told tale of a fascinating political life. Highly recommended.