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Friday, January 11, 2008 

No credibility, but what about dignity?

Oh how he wishes he could.

Extraordinary and incredible are overused adjectives, but they are surely more than valid terms to describe Peter Hain's startling failure to declare more than £100,000 of donations given to his campaign for the Labour deputy leadership. Hain's explanation, that he was in effect too busy to be drawn into such logistical matters as informing the electoral commission of the huge sums given to him by his backers, both in the private sector and unions, is both not a excuse while being a insight into New Labour as a whole. Time and again it has treated with contempt the rules that the rest of us take for granted. It informs us that as well as having rights, we also have responsibilities. How very New Labour that those same responsibilities never seem to apply to them, whether it's waging illegal wars, undermining the very rule of law itself over the SFA investigation into BAE's Saudi slush fund, or detaining foreign "terror suspects" indefinitely without charge.

Like with the Abrahams debacle, as the hours have gone by since the Grauniad broke the sum that Hain had forgotten about on Tuesday, the whole story has only grown murkier and murkier. We now know that some of the money was not given to Hain directly but to a thinktank called the Progressive Policy Forum. This is a thinktank which seems to have done absolutely no thinking whatsoever; it has no website, and one of its trustees, David Underwood, was directly involved in the Hain campaign. It looks incredibly like being a front organisation, the sort which tax evaders set up to direct their profits through a haven. The BBC is now reporting that two of the donors to the thinktank did not know that their money was in fact being used to fund Hain's campaign, although neither has any problem with it being used for that purpose. It looks increasingly likely that this was not any case of forgetting or being distracted, but that if it hadn't been for the Abrahams then this would never have came to light. Why else would a separate organisation have been used to funnel the money through to Hain except to hide its source in case it was found out? As it's turned out, Hain has had to declare those who donated in any case, with it taking over a month for Hain to break the bad news to his benefactors.

You could perhaps accept such largess if Hain had won the contest: in the event, he came second last, just ahead of the ghastly Blairite automaton Hazel Blears. Most of the cash was apparently spent on adverts in the Daily Mirror, and on a mail out to Labour and union members. The message was apparently so inspiring that the majority threw the unsolicited junk straight in the bin and vowed not to vote for the perma-tanned minister who long ago abandoned his previously impeccable credentials. In the eventuality, any who might have thought about voting for Hain instead plumped for Jon Cruddas, who despite voting for the Iraq war was far and away the best candidate, the only one who might just have tempted the otherwise long abandoned belief that Labour might again think about the many and not just the few.

Instead, Hain's "forgetfulness" has just brought the whole dampening down mess over funding back to the fore. Like the Labour party with Abrahams, his campaign seems to have thought it would get away with covering up where the money really came from, although for now none of those who have donated have been so apparently happy to make things worse by contradicting what the Labour party originally said. While the downfall of John Major's government can be linked directly back to Black Wednesday, the sleaze scandals of Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton were final nails in the coffin. Again, at least both of them were out to personally profit from their actions, not just to carry debts which Hain's campaign never needed to have had in the first place. The irony is that Hain is now the head of the department of works and pensions: if someone on benefits, or especially tax credits is overpaid, they don't get off by saying they accidentally spent it by mistake; they're forced into poverty if necessary in paying it back.

Hain has lost any credibility he had left. If he has any dignity remaining, he'll go back on his word and resign as well.

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