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 on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme

Interviewed by Justin Webb, 

LK:                  Well here is the question I suppose, do you think anything needs to change, you claim you don’t think he should be deposed but do you think he, his team need to do things differently, is that at least true?


PH:                 You and I Justin, you in the media and I as a politicians occupy the Westminster bubble, it is a world completely remote from what is happening out there in places like Neath where I’m speaking to you from, we just heard a tragic, terrible story on your programme we have got a world in which zero hour contracts, a rough world of work, people getting mortgages to pay off their kid’s student debts, London flats being bought up by the block and kept empty by oligarchs, that is the world out there, stuttering growth, austerity, a hard time in which the British economy is sinking and is failing to compete abroad and then there is this Westminster bubble nonsense about plots from unnamed people and those that are named flatly deny it. The media led by the Daily Mail, what a surprise ‘A bonfire plot against Ed’ screaming on the headlines of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mail has always been virulently anti-Labour


JW:                 DO you think it is made up?


PH:                 I don’t know whether it is made up or not all I know is reputable journalists including on the BBC don’t mention names because there are no names and if there are people feeding this stuff they should stop because what the country is desperate for is change. They want to get rid of this incompetent government that may not even be able to keep the lights on over Christmas, they know that Ed Miliband, despite all the attacks on him in the media has a plan for the country. He was the one who showed the courage to take on Rupert Murdoch, who identified the way the electricity industry was ripping consumers off and remember when he called for an electricity price freeze the industry screamed, the Tories said it was a Marxist plot and then one after the other the industries said they would start to do it. He has been consistently leading this country in pointing out that we need to change the direction of the country, bringing out policies for new housing, for tackling the problem of zero hour contracts and so on


JW:                 Isn’t that the point though, you make the case there that the country is in trouble, the individuals are in trouble, that there is anger, that there is disillusion, isn’t the point that those inside the party who might be muttering about him, isn’t the point that they would make, that he should be in a position where he captures that disillusion and uses it politically, offers solutions that people genuinely think might work for them and that doesn’t seem to be happening?


PH:                 I think that is happening but we are living in a very different political climate. I’m just looking at the facts in the latest opinion poll which show the Conservatives on 27%, just 3 points ahead of Ukip on 24% and Labour with a clear-ish lead, now we need to do better in the polls, of course,  but we are in a new political climate in which there is no trust at all in the political class of which I’m a member and all the party leaders inhabit, no party leader has got good ratings at present time and what we need to do as a Labour Party is unite and pull ourselves together and get behind Ed as I believe the party in the country is and campaign and I think he will be the Prime Minister next year and I’m not saying this out of bravado, or tribal loyalty I think we will be the biggest party and I think Ed Miliband is on course to win but he needs the support of every Labour MP and I don’t think the mutterers if they exist and no doubt journalists are not inventing this though they can’t name the people, I find that very significant. If the mutterers continue to mutter then all they will do is stop places like Neath from being liberated from this destructive, uncaring, unfair government that is destroying people’s lives.


JW:                 You sound pretty angry this morning?


PH:                 I am angry because in the real world out here it is a world in which – I had last week an individual come to me, a constituent come to me with liver cancer, he is going to die unless he gets a liver transplant, he has been stripped of all his benefits he told me, he has not got any support from the welfare net that is supposed to support people in his dire situation. I can repeat other examples of what is actually happening on the ground and I don’t think those people or Labour Party members will forgive some self-indulgent Member of Parliament muttering to a journalist and producing a headline in the Daily Mail when actually those newspapers have always been Labour’s enemies and we have a plan, Ed Miliband actually has been the first to identify that this country needs to be changed and changed radically if it is to serve the interests of everyone and not just the tiny elite at the top which is what Cameron and his old Etonian cronies are doing.




The time has come to transform British Government

Peter Hain MP has joined Ed Miliband’s calls for scrapping the House of Lords in favour of a democratically elected Senate.

Speaking from his Neath constituency, the former Secretary of State for Wales said: “the Lords are an archaic anomaly which fuels disillusionment with British politics. It exists purely on a democratic deficit which has been allowed to evolve unchecked for centuries.”

“Wales has just 24 peers in the Lords, compared to 266 from London and the South East of England. London alone has more peers than East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber added together. We cannot allow this to continue.”

Since the Scottish Referendum on the 18th of September, Labour has been the only party to call for a full-scale constitutional convention in the United Kingdom to redress the imbalances of its historical system of government.

“I believe this is a once in a century opportunity to make our system of government fit for everyone, the fact is that people are fed up with an out-of-touch political class and the growing sense that Westminster is failing us all.”


Labour Breaks Coalition and Bedroom Tax

After a successful vote in the House of Commons Peter Hain MP has congratulated Labour MPs on landing a hammer to the Tory Lib-Dem dreaded Bedroom Tax, heaping further embarrassment on David Cameron and stretching coalition relations to breaking point.

Since April 1st of 2013 the Bedroom Tax has felt like a cruel joke by many hard-working families and individuals who have been penalised by its punitive costs, some being forced to relocate from their families and communities as a direct consequence.

In Wales 31,692 people have been affected by the tax, and across Britain almost two-thirds of those affected are either disabled or carers.

The Labour Party has been campaigning against the Bedroom Tax since its introduction, pledging to scrap it should they form the next government.

The veteran MP said: “this is a fantastic achievement and it could not have been done without the work of Labour leader Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.”

“In Neath I know of many families and people who have borne the brunt of this government’s disastrous welfare program. As a former Secretary of State for the DWP I cannot express how much it has anguished me to see such havoc wrought on ordinary people.”

“We cannot let this government forget that they are responsible for this misery, and more needs to be done to make sure the Bedroom Tax is relegated from people’s lives altogether.”


Peter Hain and Rachel Reeves