Talking to voters on the doorstep is more important than ever in this election

Western Mail

Getting out on the doorsteps and meeting voters face to face is more important than ever in this election, according to former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

The ex-Neath MP is convinced that in this tightly-fought election personal contact is much more effective than cold-calling or social media campaigning.

This is the first general election since 1983 that the former anti-apartheid activist has not been a candidate.

He admitted: “It’s slightly weird in one sense.”

Mr Hain has been knocking on doors in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in an effort to turn the seat from blue to red and send Delyth Evans to the green benches of the Commons.

Underscoring the importance of meeting voters in person, he said: “I think that this election is more about doorstep work and personal contact than any in my experience. I’ve always believed direct voter contact is much more important than telephone canvassing or digital communication.

“But in this election that is exponentially more the case because there is so much volatility. You can feel it on the doorstep.”

Mr Hain tried to defeat Conservative David Mellor in Putney in the 1983 and 1987 elections but won Neath in a 1991 by-election.

He dismisses comparisons with 1992, when Labour and the Conservatives were deadlocked in the polls until John Major got on his soapbox and secured a majority.

Mr Hain grew “really worried” on polling day that year when he heard turnout in Sussex was “unusually high”.

But he said: “[This] is completely different. This is multi-party politics.

“That was two-party politics and there is an anti-politics mood in the country which is completely different from 1992. The political situation is much more fragmented.”

His “gut feeling” is that Labour will emerge as the largest party and he doubts whether his party will experience the meltdown in Scotland that has been forecast at the hands of the SNP.

However, he said: “The irony is the more people vote SNP the more likely David Cameron will lead the largest party. That’s simply the reality.

“They say that they are an anti-Tory party but in fact that consequence of Nicola Sturgeon doing well is David Cameron remaining in No 10.”

He argues the campaign has been diminished by the absence of head to head debates between Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband, saying: “You can see exactly why David Cameron refused to debate head to head with Ed Miliband because Ed Miliband has surprised people as I always thought he would by the strength of his performance in the election and on television as well…

“He’s confounded his critics and I think if there had been a head to head I think Cameron would have come off the worst and I think that’s why they didn’t do it.”

Describing the type of leadership he hopes Mr Miliband will provide, he said: “I think he will be a very strong prime minister and I think he will show real guts and vision.

“He’s somebody who has a really commitment to social justice and fairness as well as economic prudence and in that combination I think he will be a real breath of fresh air.”

In the meantime, he is coaching a new generation of canvassers on the basics of doorstep campaigning. In particular, he drills them on the importance of pushing leaflets all the way through letter-boxes.

He said: “It’s amazing how many people don’t do that. Other parties come along and pull them out behind you.”

A further word of advice is to stand well back from the door and give voters plenty of personal space.

He said: “You’ve got to remember that for most people political canvassers are a distinctly odd breed.”

Of mandarins and ministers: Securing power, not just office

Fabian Society

Ed Miliband’s Labour government will take office in the toughest of circumstances: our public services on the rack because of cuts, a weak economy with hesitant growth based upon personal debt, housing assets and consumer spending, and with a record trade deficit. Despite the constant Tory mantra, ‘it’s the deficit, stupid!’, all their targets on borrowing, debt and the budget deficit have been missed. Their neoliberal austerity agenda is failing, like elsewhere in Europe. Labour will also face the small problem of ruling without a comfortable majority – or, if the pundits and pollsters are to be believed, no majority.

Labour’s first task will be to abandon the growth-choking austerity, as I have argued in my new book Back to the Future of Socialism, where I set out a coherent, evidence-based alternative, focusing initially on capital spending. But the key will be for incoming ministers to grip their briefs and departments in a way too many in government never do.

When I was appointed a minister by Tony Blair in May 1997, nobody had really taught me how to be one. Although during the 1997 election campaign I had read Gerald Kaufman’s instructive if somewhat satirical book How to be a Minister, I relied upon my own experience, instincts and political values.

Crucially important for an incoming minister is to have a plan; otherwise, the private office, diligent and supportive though I found all of mine in twelve years of government, quickly takes over and fills the diary, prompting busy hours of worthily processing papers and shuffling between meetings. Most important is to arrive on the first day with a sense of political priorities, even if the detail needs to be filled in. Otherwise even the most able ministers find themselves running to keep up, and sinking under piles of routine paperwork.

Many in our ministerial cadre, particularly though not exclusively below cabinet level, seemed more captured by their departments than not. However, Charles Clarke was a notable exception. In 2000, when we were both ministers of state, he in the Home Office, me in the Foreign Office, we had a meeting to discuss getting retired police officers to help with the transition from military peacekeeping to local civilian security, especially in African conflict zones. My officials had been frustrated by lack of co-operation from their Home Office counterparts and recommended a ministerial meeting to resolve the impasse.

Often on such occasions, a ministerial colleague would regurgitate their brief and the meeting would end, with officials happily going off to do what they love doing: reflect, write a fresh paper and prepare for another meeting. ‘Departmentalitis’ is rife within Whitehall, the Treasury by far the worst offender, so I was briefed up to persuade Charles of the merits of the proposal.

He arrived, plonked his burly frame on my office sofa, eyed up the grand old colonial surroundings, and politely interrupted my opening remarks: “Peter, I have looked at this carefully – and I completely agree with you.” His officials looked more startled than mine. “Now shall we tell them all to work out the details as quickly as they can, and let’s discuss some politics?” As the room emptied, we reflected upon what proved to be a common perspective on the shortcomings and successes of the Blair government and how to make it better. How refreshing it was to deal with Charles.

It is pointless being a minister unless you are prepared give political leadership. Although the legendary Yes Minister television series, where civil servants run rings around their hapless minister often comes uncomfortably close to the mark, my experience was rather different. Officials, I found, valued strong political leadership and direction – ministers who knew their own minds – provided they were willing to take advice. The best private secretaries ensured delivery of my ministerial decisions whilst keeping a wary eye for propriety and telling me things I might not want to hear. The best officials had a ‘can do’ rather than a ‘can’t do’ attitude and, if the civil service only adopted that motto as the norm it would be massively more efficient and immeasurably better at delivery.

Maintaining a grip on the ministerial brief involved striking a balance between the routine and the significant. My years in government suggested several lessons.

Around 80 per cent of the pile of papers and files in your in-tray or red box was straightforward and could in principle have been handled by the departmental machine. You needed to keep a weather eye on this bulk because it might contain elephant traps or plain mistakes. It might also contain what I called ‘piss-off’ messages to MPs, couched in turgid prose by drafting officials blissfully oblivious to their impact. You couldn’t simply sign off this material even if tired or late at night. However, for me, doing the job successfully meant focusing as clearly as possible on the 20 per cent where a difference really can be made. I also ‘did my red boxes overnight’, keeping on top of the workload, leaving more time to prioritise and focus on the politics.

Are we in office but not in power? That age old question for Labour governments will be worth every one of Ed’s new Labour ministers asking themselves every day.

Peter Hain’s Valedictory speech in the Commons

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Peter Hain gave his valedictory speech, his last act as a Member of Parliament.

The veteran politician and campaigner reflected on almost a quarter of a century in Westminster politics, paying tribute to his friends and family for the love and support which sustained him as an MP.

Joining in with other retiring Labour former cabinet members such as Gordon Brown & Jack Straw, the valedictory speeches followed an unusual and emotional day in the Commons.

You can read the full extract of Peter’s speech below:

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Mr Speaker, having served for 24 years, may I commend your role as in my view the greatest reforming Speaker in memory, by making the Commons immensely more user and citizen-friendly, and especially for the way in which you have enhanced Back-Bench influence? I thank all the Commons staff, including our excellent Serjeant at Arms and especially the Doorkeepers, with whom I have had a specially close relationship since I invited them in to share a few bottles of wine—South African wine—in the Leader of the Commons’ office.

I thank my constituents in Neath and Neath constituency Labour party for their tremendous loyalty and support. I was a Pretoria boy, but I am proud to have become a Neath man. When I first arrived I was shown into a local primary school, Godre’r Graig school in the Swansea valley: “This is a very important person to meet you, class.” A little boy in the front row put up his hand and asked, “Do you play rugby for Neath?” Clearly, he had his priorities right.

I have been privileged and fortunate to have the very best friend anybody could have in Howard Davies of Seven Sisters, what he calls God’s own country, in the Dulais valley in Neath. I first met him in February 1990, a former miner who was lodge secretary at Blaenant colliery during the heart-rending year-long strike in 1984-85. My first agent and office manager, Howard has always been completely loyal and supportive, but privately frank and direct—priceless virtues which I commend to anyone in national politics.

Having come from a world of radical protest and activism, I never expected to be a Minister for 12 years. It began when Alastair Campbell unexpectedly called and said, “Tony wants to make an honest man of you.” Some former comrades on the left were disparaging, but my response was, “I’ve never been an all-or-nothing person. I’m an all-or-something person.” I am proud of many of the achievements of our last Labour Government, some of which I helped a little with, including bringing peace to Northern Ireland and devolution to Wales.

However, there was a tabloid columnist who described me as the “second most boring member of the Cabinet”. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor, came top. At least that was more civil than the editor of Sunday Express at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, when I led campaigns to disrupt whites-only South African rugby and cricket tours. He said: “It would be a mercy for humanity if this unpleasant little creep were to fall into a sewage tank. Up to his ankles. Head first.” That was nothing compared with the letter bomb I received, fortunately with a technical fault in it, or being put on trial for conspiracy at the Old Bailey for disrupting South African sports tours, or being charged with a bank theft that I knew nothing about, which was later discovered to have been set up by South African agents.

Despite serving as an MP and Cabinet Minister, and remaining a Privy Councillor, I have not changed my belief that progressive change comes only through a combination of extra-parliamentary and parliamentary action. We know that from the struggles of the Chartists, the suffragettes, the early trade unionists, anti-apartheid protesters, the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism activists confronting groups such as the National Front and the British National party, and Greenpeace activists inspiring fights against climate change.

If I am asked for advice by young people, who often ask me, “Can you tell me how to have a career in politics?” I say, “It’s not about a career; it’s about a mission.” We should never be in it for ourselves, but for our values. For me, these are equality, social justice, equal opportunities, liberty and democracy in a society based on mutual care and mutual support, not the selfishness and greed now so sadly disfiguring Britain. These values underpinned the anti-apartheid struggle and brought me into the Labour party nearly 40 years ago, but nothing I was able to achieve as an MP or a Minister was possible without the support of my family—my wife Elizabeth Haywood, a rock to me, my wonderful sister Sally, her daughter Connie, my sons Sam and Jake, and their mum, my former wife Pat.

Above all, I am grateful to my mother Adelaine and my father Walter, for their values, courage, integrity, morality and principle. My mum when in jail on her own listened to black prisoners screaming in pain. My dad was banned and then deprived of his job. They did extraordinary things, but as Nelson Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”

After 50 years in politics some might say it is time to put my feet up, but I have been lucky to have the best father in the world, and he told me in the mid-1960s when I was a teenager living in apartheid South Africa, “If political change was easy, it would have happened a long time ago. Stick there for the long haul.” That is exactly what I will continue to do after leaving this House.

Mr Speaker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

Undercover Policing

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Home Affairs if she will make a statement on whether the public inquiry into undercover policing will examine files held by the special branch on Members of Parliament.

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): Undercover policing is an essential tactic in fighting crime. However, we have known for some time that there have been serious historical failings in undercover policing and its practices. To improve the public’s confidence in undercover work, we must ensure that there is no repeat of these failings. That is why the Home Secretary established a public inquiry earlier this month—to investigate thoroughly undercover policing and the operation of the special demonstration squad. The appointment as chairman of Lord Justice Pitchford, a highly experienced criminal judge of the Court of Appeal, has been confirmed.

The scope of the inquiry, announced to Parliament on 12 March, will focus on the deployment of police officers on covert human intelligence sources, or CHIS, by the SDS, the national public order intelligence unit and other police forces in England and Wales. The inquiry will review practices and the use of undercover policing to establish justice for the families and victims and make recommendations for the future, so that we learn from the mistakes. Lord Justice Pitchford and his team will consult all interested parties in the coming months and will review and publish their terms of reference for the inquiry by the end of July. We should encourage Lord Justice Pitchford to get on with this important piece of work.

Mr Hain: I thank the Minister for his statement. Will he pass on to the Home Secretary my request that she ensure that the remit of the public inquiry she has announced into the operations of the special demonstration squad includes the surveillance of the MPs publicly named by Peter Francis when he was an undercover officer between 1990 and 2001?

Is the Minister aware that Mr Francis saw a special branch file on not only me but my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who was actually Home Secretary for four of those years? He also saw files on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), as well as former colleagues Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Bernie Grant.

Did the monitoring affect our ability as MPs to speak confidentially with constituents? What impact, if any, did it have on our ability to represent them properly? We know, for example, that the campaign to get justice for Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by racists, was infiltrated by the SDS and that the police blocked a proper prosecution. Did police infiltrators in the Lawrence campaign exploit private information shared by constituents or lawyers with any of us as MPs? Will the Home Office order the police to disclose all relevant information and, to each of the MPs affected, our complete individual personal registry files?

It is hardly a revelation that the special branch had a file on people like me, dating back 40 years to anti-apartheid and Anti-Nazi League activist days, because we were seen through a cold war prism as “subversive”. Even though we vigorously opposed Stalinism, that did not stop us being lumped together with Moscow sympathisers.

Surely the fact that these files were still active for at least 10 years while we were MPs raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty and privilege—principles that are vital to our democracy. It is one thing to have a police file on an MP suspected of crime, child abuse or even co-operating with terrorism, but quite another to maintain one deriving from campaigns promoting values of social justice, human rights and equal opportunities that are shared by millions of British people. Surely that means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.

Mike Penning: The right hon. Gentleman has put his point to the House very well. It is important that the country has confidence in the way the police operate, and that is exactly why the Home Secretary has instigated the inquiry. I am sure that Lord Justice Pitchford and his officials will be contacting the right hon. Gentleman and others in this House, and those who have left this House, to make sure that their views are known as he addresses the way he is going to take his inquiry forward.