Hain: the final frontier

We have now staggered to the end of the Peter Hain interview which was conducted on behalf of us all by Petsy Wyatt of the Mail.  In today’s final instalment, Petsy asked Hain about The Tan:

I say I have never seen a politician glow quite so brightly.

‘Is the fake tan from a bottle or is it from a sun bed?’

Hain is outraged. ‘You impertinent hussy. I have never used a sun bed or a spray tan. I find that suggestion highly offensive. I just have a naturally bright complexion.’

‘Maybe it’s just the glow of egotism,’ I joke. This comment puts him in a fit of the sullens.

The Daily hopes you have enjoyed this week’s serialisation of the interview.  For those still crying out for more, click on the link below for the article in its entirity. 


THE ALARM system inside the Northern Ireland Office in London warns: ‘Flashing light denotes hostile activity.’ It is apposite that the occupant of the office is Peter Hain , who has been engaged in some very hostile activity against the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The 56-year-old Northern Ireland Secretary, and candidate in the forthcoming election to become deputy leader of the Labour Party, broke the Government’s silence over the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko to rail against Mr Putin’s ‘attacks on liberty’ and the ‘murky murders’ surrounding his regime. 

Mr  Hain  is renowned for shooting from the lip. In the Seventies, his antiapartheid campaigning earned him the sobriquet ‘ Hain  the Pain’, while he has the dubious accolade of being the first Cabinet minister to have been arrested for bank robbery.  

At present, he is devoting his combative energies to both the deputy leadership and the restoration of the Northern Ireland assembly. Not bad for somebody who allegedly also maintains a perma-tan.  Labour’s Sundance Kid has a leonine head and high cheekbones. The effect might be heroic were it not for his complexion, which is indeed the most fantastic shade of orange. 

On close examination, apart from the satsuma-skin,  Hain appears relatively human. His sartorial gifts are modest, but beside Gordon Brown, with whom he may soon be working,  Hain  is a veritable Regency nonpareil, a la Beau Brummell. His elegant, lollipopcoloured stripy tie indicates a certain levity, while his greying hair is carefully brushed up for a soft meringue effect. 

At Westminster, there is a feeling that Hain will say anything to raise his political profile. ‘Do you think you’ll be swallowing something radioactive in the near future?’ I inquire.  
‘I am not in trouble with Downing Street for speaking my mind. I am not afraid of anyone, and that’s the end of it,’ he snorts. 

I ask why he wants to be deputy Prime Minister. How can he possibly follow the Grand Guignol act of Two Jags — or rather, rescue the job from the laughing stock its present incumbent has made it?  The perma-tan has obviously affected his mind, for he answers my question like a Miss World contestant.

‘I want to make a difference. I want to do it because I strongly believe there must be a more inclusive form of leadership.  ‘We need less policy bouncers and more consultations — more inclusiveness and more of a sense of ownership.’ 

Such references to Tony Blair running an electoral dictatorship seem out of step with a supposedly loyal New Labour Cabinet minister. But Hain  declares angrily: ‘I am not a Blairite.’  ‘Then why are you in his Cabinet?’ I remark, reminding him that as well as the Ulster portfolio, he is also Secretary for Wales. ‘That makes you Two Jobs Hain!’  Hain replies: ‘I’ve been loyal to Tony, but a “Blairite” means a certain genre of Labour Party people. I am not part of that. I am not part of the caucus of people who call themselves Blairites.  ‘I don’t like that kind of factionalism in the party. It has been corrosive. Personally, I call myself a socialist libertarian.’ 

‘The trouble with you,’ I chastise him ‘is that you behave more like a Viceroy of India.’ I meet him in his luxurious office; a fondant mixture of yellows and pinks. It sits oddly with a man who is a former radical demonstrator and whose parents were impoverished colonials who fled to Britain after being persesternly, I point out that since the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended, he has ruled the territory as undemocratically as Lord Curzon ruled India.   His official residence in Northern Ireland is 18th-century Hillsborough Castle, where the Queen sojourns on State visits.  Hain concedes the truth of his status. ‘I do enjoy the irony of someone who was born in a former British colony doing this job. I love Hillsborough Castle.’  

HAIN and his wife, Elizabeth Haywood, a businesswoman to whom he has been married since 2003, use it for family Christmases. ‘We all play football in the throne room,’ he boasts.  ‘Are you trying to be cool and rebellious?’ I ask censoriously.  ‘No,’ he says hastily. ‘We have great respect for the throne room — we were very careful. It was a very small football.’ 

In Ulster, Hain  is attempting to juggle a good many balls. Under the St Andrews Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly is due to reconvene next March. But prospects are not good.  The 2003 elections left the two extremist parties — Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein — holding the balance of power. Paisley has only tentatively accepted his nomination as First Minister, with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister.  

Does Hain believe the pair will work together? ‘I am encouraged that we remain on track, but no one can be certain. But it is a positive move in the light of past events.’  If the parties fall out, the assembly will be suspended once more and  Hain  will put into place what he calls ‘Plan B’ — what the Minister describes as ‘more direct rule by me’. He adds with some speed: ‘This I would prefer not to do, of course. As you say, like a viceroy, I am not elected.’  Hain  was born a British subject in Kenya, where his South African architect father, Walter, was working. Soon after the family moved back to South Africa, Walter and his wife were given prison sentences for their virulent campaigning against apartheid. On their release, the couple were banned from taking part in any social gathering of more than two people.  ‘It was an amazing situation because one banned person couldn’t meet or talk to another banned person. That meant no sex. They were the first married couple to suffer in this way,’ Hain  says with peculiar pride. ‘Fortunately, I was already born by then.’  The apartheid government eventually gave them a special dispensation to resume what Denis Healey refers to as ‘rumpy-pumpy’. Soon after, the family moved to England.  Hain was 16 and, during the Seventies, did his best to make a name for himself by flouting the law. He illegally dug up sports grounds to prevent South Africa’s all-white teams from playing in England and was continually appearing in court. 

I ask about other activities. ‘Did you ever take drugs?’ A grey flush subverts  Hain ‘s tan. ‘No, yes, no. I mean, at a party once someone stuffed a spliff into my mouth but I didn’t smoke it. I promise you. I can honestly say I never inhaled!’  Nevertheless, he had a sensational knack for trouble. In 1975, he was arrested for allegedly robbing a bank in Putney. It was a case of mistaken identity and Hain was released. 

‘I don’t know for sure, but I think the South African government framed me,’ he ruminates. ‘The thief looked like me. It was as if someone had found my doppelganger.  ‘He behaved very oddly because he threw the money away on the street. He has never been caught. It was the most surreal thing and incredibly unnerving.’ 

These days, Hain lives a quieter life, which he attributes to his wife, who is the director of a Welsh headhunting firm and a former Welsh Woman of the Year. (His first marriage, to Patricia Western, the mother of his two sons, Sam, 30, and Jake, 28, broke up amicably in 1995.) ‘Elizabeth is terrific. A really strong character. We have a very equal and challenging relationship. We do great things together. Like, er, we go to the gym.’  
‘How heart-throbbingly romantic,’ I say sarcastically.  I ask him what his wife looks like. Strangely, he struggles with a response. All he can say is: ‘Um. . .’  I suspect he is more interested in his own looks — Hain  the Vain would be a better name for him.  ‘Um! Is that all you can say about your wife? Can you at least tell me the colour of her hair?’ He thinks. ‘Er, your sort of colour.’ (Brown).  ‘Is it done a la Pauline?’ I ask, referring to John Prescott’s wife’s famous coiffeur. ‘Will she demand a car to drive her ten yards in case the wind spoils her “do”? I think the taxpayer ought to know.’  ‘Oh, no. She is nothing like that.  She loves walking up hills. That’s another nice thing we do, with our protection officers.’ 

On balance, I doubt Hain  will turn out like Prezza in the sex department. He does not seem to be a petticoat-lifter — and if he is, there are too many bobbies around for him to be able to seize the chance. 

I ask him whether, if he wins the deputy leadership contest, he plans to have two Jags. It transpires that he already has one.  ‘Part of the life of the Northern Ireland Secretary is that you are driven around in an armour-plated Jag with four protection officers. If I became deputy leader, I don’t know what car I would get but I would have similar protection.’  ‘Would it be environmentally friendly?’ I ask.  ‘Have you ever seen a “green” armoured car?’ he replies scornfully (somehow, I doubt he gives a Cameroon for the environment). ‘Armoured cars weigh tons.’   More importantly, I wonder if a Brown/ Hain double act will appeal to the electorate. ‘Neither of you are English,’ I say. ‘In the light of a public mood favouring an independent England, do you think voters will put up with two foreigners running the country?’ Hain answers meditatively: ‘I have asked myself this question long and hard, because whoever takes the deputy leadership has to help win the election. So I consulted Labour MPs in marginal seats.  ‘I concluded that most people think of me as international and classless. I have integrated. When I see Muslims not making the effort, I worry — it’s dangerous.’  APART from the nationality issue, the voters may not want an avowedly socialist — if libertarian — deputy Labour leader combined with long-face Gordon. Will Hain  pledge to bring more sunshine to the front bench?  

‘That’s a loaded question,’ he guffaws, showing an excessive amount of gum. ‘I think when Gordon becomes leader, he will be different. People will see in him different things than they saw in Tony.  ‘They will see a leader of substance. Gordon will never be huggable. But his real character is engaging and warm.’ 

‘Are you huggable?’ I ask, moving closer to him on the sofa.  ‘Let’s not cause a political scandal,’ he pleads.  I tell him I cannot help myself. It must be that irresistible glow of his. I say I have never seen a politician glow quite so brightly.  ‘Is the fake tan from a bottle or is it from a sun bed?’  Hain is outraged. ‘You impertinent hussy. I have never used a sun bed or a spray tan. I find that suggestion highly offensive. I just have a naturally bright complexion.’  ‘Maybe it’s just the glow of egotism,’ I joke. This comment puts him in a fit of the sullens. In an attempt to cheer him up I ask if he would like to be Prime Minister? However, this does not cheer him up. In fact, his eyes become steely little bullets. 

‘I am running for the number two job.’  ‘Yes, but in for a penny, in for a pound,’ I say breezily. ‘Might as well go for it?’  ‘I don’t answer hypothetical questions.’  ‘Isn’t that political speak for “Yes, I am gagging to be Prime Minister”?’  Hain stifles a laugh. ‘I know I can be a very good deputy. We are going to have a tough enough job winning the election as we have lost the voters’ trust.’ 

Suddenly, he begs: ‘Petronella, look at me adoringly.’  What? This is a uncharacteristic turn-around! Then I realise that it is simply because the photographer has started taking pictures of us. The calculating, shameless careerism of the man!  At least I think it is careerism. Either Brown had best look to his back, or  Hain  has some Prezza tendencies after all.


19 Responses to Hain: the final frontier

  1. HenryG says:

    Stunned silence.

    Stop him. Now. Before it’s too late.

  2. Dai says:

    As I said in the other comments box – BBC Wales’ man in Parliament seems to be saying that, at the very least, the bit you quote today has been… made up?

    “She quoted the Wales and Northern Ireland secretary directly, deflecting a query about his complexion with the suggestion that she was “an impertinent hussy” for asking the question.

    The phrase, which surprised many veteran students of the Hain vocabulary, was never uttered by the man himself. Or if it was, it was whispered so quietly the tape recorder mysteriously failed to record him saying it.

    How puzzling, if not impertinent. Could it really be possible that we should not believe everything we read in the newspapers? ”


  3. HenryG says:

    So it may not have been audibly recorded that he used the phrase ‘hussy’. But that still leaves us with plenty of meat on the bone.

  4. Horror. Horror has a face…

    I’m shocked, not just at how bad his answers are, but also at what a truely nasty set up job that interview was, and how he walked into it in the first place.

  5. HenryG says:

    To be fair to Peter, at least he didn’t fall asleep this time. Y’know, like that time he dozed off in a meeting with the father of a loyalist murder victim and the local MP.


    How on earth does this man think he can renew the Labour Party. He has more chance of winning the Grand National.

  6. Thomas says:

    The interview reminds me of the piece the mail did with david davis’ wife which holed him below the waterline with the rest of the media, making him look like a loon.


    If the other candidates have any sense, they will be making sure journos have read Hain’s interview.

  7. Nick says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Wyatt had used a bit of creative license. What’s surprising is that Hain walked in to the trap – surely anyone who knows of her work with the Mail could see that coming?!

    Not that the alleged “impertinent hussy” remark was exactly the worst of it…

  8. TimBob says:

    Thomas do you think the Mail interview will actually change people’s perception of Hain? Those of us that dislike him will feel vindicated. But how many people voting in the Deputy Leadership contest read the Mail? Or do you see it as a wider credibility thing that the media and a few bloggers will pick up on and run with.

  9. Sham says:

    Being stitched up by the Mail might well work in his favour. As you say, not many Labour members read the paper!

  10. Nick says:

    Not many “armchair members” will be reading it, but you can bet that other journos will have noticed; and I suspect it is already a subject of much mirth at the Labour end of the Commons Tea Room. Then there are the Party activists who are active enough to gossip about politics or, of course, read Labour blogs!

    It’s not so much being stitched up by the Mail – if they’d written a hostile news story it probably would’ve gone in his favour – it’s more the fact that he walked straight in to it and is now left with a hole in his foot, a smoking gun in his hand, and a bemused expression on his orange face.

  11. the horror the horror says:

    absolutely eye-wateringly bad interview

    he must have felt afterwards like he needed to shower for hours.

  12. HenryG says:

    Nick I don’t think it’s on to criticise Hain for his appearance and the so-called ‘orange face’. I think there are plenty of other things to have a go at him about, as this week has shown.

  13. TimBob says:

    Well Henry I think that depends on whether it’s self-induced or not. If he tops it up on a fortnightly basis at Tanfastics then he’s fair game. If it is his natural colouring then he should see a doctor cos his livers packing in. I want to know if Peter was born orange. Any photos anyone to settle this once and for all.

  14. MrsNoName says:

    Leave Peter Hain alone! He’s done good things in Northern Ireland, ended grammar schools, restricted PFI and helped the peace process. If Jon Cruddas doesn’t get anywhere you’ll all be backing Hain, so go easy on him. He’s our only left-winger in the cabinet after all.

    Why not pick on one of the awful New Labour clones instead. Peter can’t win – if he says the party line he’s ‘selling out his principles’. If he speaks his mind, he’s criticised for saying a few silly things to a rightwing journalist.

  15. HenryG says:

    ‘Peter Hain can’t win…’

    Not if this interview’s anything to go by!

  16. “If Jon Cruddas doesn’t get anywhere you’ll all be backing Hain, so go easy on him.”

    I’d be backing Hilary Benn followed by Harman followed by Johnson followed re-open nominations then Hain. Just so we’re clear.

    “He’s our only left-winger in the cabinet after all.”

    You’re a third right: he is in the cabinet but he’s not a left-winger and he’s not, in any sense, mine. He’s Shaun Woodward’s – that’s Shaun Woodward the Tory MP with the butler. Glad we’ve cleared that up, too.

    Don’t really care what he’s said to a right-wing journalist, more concerned about what he’s said to a right-wing Prime Minister, such as “yes, yes, yes, let’s invade Iraq.”

  17. HenryG says:

    Interesting question – reverse your point Mrs No Name. If Hain gets nowhere, would he back Jon Cruddas? I very much doubt it. That’s how left wing he is. As the now infamous Mail interview demonstrates Hain is fully part of the establishment – and is enjoying it a great deal. Expect nothing radical from him as long as he’s an MP. He’s dined out on what he did in the 70s for nearly 30 years now. And when he did it, he wasn’t even in the Labour Party!

  18. I think Hain’s a politician who genuinely goes beyond left and right.

    He’s certainly made occasional leftish noises in the media since 1997 but you always suspect that’s because he saw a market for himself as the establishment centre-left candidate for top positions in the party.

    Had he taken a risk and run for the real leadership, making that into a genuine contest, I might have believed that he was really interested in an open policy debate and not just interested in promoting himself.

    His deputy leadership campaign, though – and this interview bears out – suggests he’s a guy for whom self-love and ambition will always trump principle.

    I’m not broadly opposed to politicians being vain and ambitious if they also achieve something useful – I don’t support politicians on the basis that they’re nice people – the problem with Hain is that I think his ambition and vanity heavily outweigh his political contribution.

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