There is an incredible irony about today’s resignation of Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Most ministers bite the dust because of financial and sexual peccadilloes, the odd one because they simply aren’t up to the job. Unusually, Hain has gone because of a simple inability to understand that, if you are a senior figure in a political party that has created legislation to control fundraising and spending, you really ought to obey it yourself.
The most worrying aspect of this is that he isn’t alone. Gordon Brown defended Hain, claiming that it was ‘incompetence’. It isn’t simple incompetence, Gordon, it’s a crime. You and your colleagues designed the legislation. You voted it through the Commons and pushed it through the Lords. Now you have to obey it, just like the thousands of other pieces of legislation inflicted on ordinary people by an administration who can’t see a single problem without reaching for the legislative agenda – the same old story of ‘something must be done, this is something, it must be done’ – regardless of whatever laws already exist which can effectively be used to deal with the problem.
The claims that he was too busy don’t stand up either, I’m afraid. Ros frequently reminds me not to take on commitments that I can’t effectively deliver upon, and that represents extremely good advice(perhaps Peter might like to give Ros a call on the subject). If, as an agent, I fail to file the proper declarations at the end of a campaign, I can potentially go to prison, or at least pay a hefty fine. I will be criminalised by a piece of Labour legislation that, to be frank, I fully supported then, and now. Yes, it is an administrative burden, but I’m not claiming responsibility for an entire Government department. Peter Hain was, on the other hand.
So, now he has resigned in order to clear his name. I await with interest his defence. The law is very simple. Did he declare all donations above the proscribed amount within the due deadline? Evidently, he did not, as he has admitted. Was he ignorant of the legislation? I think not, as ignorance is no defence before the law. Did aliens from the planet Zog create such chaos in his office that papers could not be located? Perhaps his permatan caused him to be confused…
In fairness, had he failed to declare one contribution, it might have argued that it was simply an oversight, he could apologise for the mistake, and pay whatever fine was levied. A six-figure oversight, on the other hand, is way more than simple incompetence can justify, and he had no choice but to go. Obvious to anyone with any sense of moral fibre and decency, it is astonishing to think that there are those in our party who thought it necessary to defend him. Perhaps an ethics course might be helpful?