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.

Alex Salmond, you’re no Nelson Mandela – Scotland is free already

Telegraph, 12 September 2014

For anyone like me who waged the long and bitter fight against apartheid, hearing Alex Salmond rank it alongside his campaign for Scottish independence defies belief. Apartheid was one of the worst racial tyrannies the world has ever seen – it suppressed, imprisoned, tortured or killed opponents, and it stripped blacks of any shred of dignity, denying their common humanity.

Scotland is part of a UK democracy where human rights are deeply entrenched. It has almost complete self-government – and has been promised still more. I quite understand why Salmond contrives to present his campaign as a battle against the perfidious English, he as the “Braveheart” liberating his people from London’s dastardly despotism. Doubtless one of his spin doctors will soon invoke him as a Nelson Mandela-like freedom warrior.

All that neatly diverts attention from both the paucity of the separatist case and its deeply flawed expectations. A separated Scotland will be weaker not stronger, a tiny isolated nation rather than part of a world power, poorer not richer, its currency in the lap of the gods, its status uncertain.

Maybe still in Nato, but no longer with a voice through the UK on the United Nations Security Council. Maybe admitted back into Europe, but probably not. Maybe still with the Queen as Head of State, but her Balmoral estate now in a foreign country – possibly no longer such a favoured destination.

Where Nelson Mandela was demanding his African people take their rightful place at the centre of power, Alex Salmond seeks to withdraw his people to the margins of it.

But when he commented that a long queue to register to vote in the referendum was “almost reminiscent of scenes in South Africa from 20 years ago when people queued up to vote in the first free election”, that wasn’t just fanciful and absurd, historically and politically – it was downright insulting.

I was a British parliamentary observer on that historic Wednesday morning, April 27, 1994, driven at dawn to Soweto, near Nelson Mandela’s old home, gold mine dumps looming in the early mist.

Arriving at our first polling station half an hour before it was due to open, there were already thousands queuing up, their mood calm and expectant. More were streaming in out of the morning haze as the sun rose.

My official driver happened to be a local resident, and was therefore invited to jump the queues and vote first. He waited anxiously to have his hand stamped. Then, as he put his ballot form in the box, he turned to catch my eye, smiling – part triumphant, part astonished – before leaving the polling station with a broad grin, punching the air in excitement.

Hardly able to accept that, in middle age, he had actually voted for the first time in his life, he told me he had been worried in case his ballot paper might be snatched away at the last minute.

An old woman – perhaps in her nineties – was led shuffling away after voting, a smile of eternity gracing her weathered face, as young men bounced confidently out in their trainers, giving high fives to friends.

After all those years, all the animosity, the ugly discrimination, the lives wasted away in prison, here it was happening, amazingly, right in front of me: constitutional apartheid being exorcised.

When Nelson Mandela cast his ballot later that day, also for the first time in his life, he characteristically joked when the waiting media posse asked him who he was voting for: “You know, I have been agonising over that choice all morning!”

It is sadly delusional to imply that next Thursday’s referendum will be any such magical Mandela moment.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11090512/Alex-Salmond-youre-noNelson-Mandela-Scotland-is-free-already.html

Neath is a Close-Knit Community

NEATH MP Peter Hain, who last week made the shock announcement he would stand down at the next election, has described the town as a close-knit community.

But, he said, the villages are not quite as close as they once were — and he’s seen major changes in his 23 years serving the area.

Mr Hain, who lives in Resolven, said the main change was in the social lives of people across the area.

“I used to go down to Resolven Rugby Club on a Saturday night,” he said.

“The lounge bar used to be absolutely packed, with the men in their suits or shirt and tie and the ladies in their dresses.

“There would be 80 to 100 people in there, and that was the same in all the villages around the constituency.

“But these days, if you go into Resolven Rugby Club, unless there’s a function, there’s maybe one in the lounge bar.

“The pool bar is often full with youngsters.

“There’s been a big cultural shift, in very, very close knit communities.”

But, he said, Neath still has a great sense of community spirit and care for each other — but that people retreat to their own homes more on a Saturday night, with more choice on the television and affordable at-home drinking.

Speaking about his memories of his time as MP for Neath, he added: “One thing I remember is, when the Eisteddfod came to Neath, to the Neath Valley.

“I decided I would like to make an opening address in Welsh.

“I knew a Welsh speaking audience would be thrilled.

“My close friend, and agent at the time, Howard Davies, is a Welsh speaker and he said to me, ‘Don’t do it Peter, this is mad’.”

But on with it he went, and with the help of former deputy head teacher, Caryl Chiswell, of Godre’r Graig, he was tutored for the three or four months ahead of the festival.

“We wrote a speech, and went through it,” said Mr Hain.

“But then we had to change it, because she said it was too complicated, and that we could say the same thing in a different way.

“To cut a long story short, I delivered it and got a standing ovation.

“There was also a message from Nelson Mandela, thanking the people of Wales for their support in the freedom struggle.”

Full interview here:

http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/Peter-Hain-Neath-close-knit-community/story-21256012-detail/story.html

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Westminster Abbey

Nelson Mandela would have been humbled by this occasion, perhaps wistfully recalling with his wonderful smile, that British Christian missionaries at his primary school decreed his first name. Who knows, maybe they were privy to the translation of his birth name: Rolihlahla – or ‘looking for trouble’?

The herd boy turned freedom fighter, the prisoner turned president, never forgot his British connection. Indeed he revered it – even during those long decades in that cold cell on Robben Island when the anti-apartheid struggle was so bitter; facing ruthless, brutal repression at home, and when there was mostly a majority in the House of Commons against him and his African National Congress.

Yet tens of thousands of British citizens supported his fight for freedom: those courageous bishops, Trevor Huddleston, Ambrose Reeves and David Sheppard who led both from the pulpit and the street; grannies who boycotted South African oranges; students who forced Barclays Bank to withdraw from South Africa; trade unionists who gave solidarity; protesters who disrupted sports tours by apartheid-selected teams; and a few stalwart MPs like Neil Kinnock, Richard Caborn, Bob Hughes and David Steel.

Nelson Mandela never missed an opportunity to thank them all. Although his generosity to former opponents was legendary, he never forgot who was on his side and who wasn’t. Sadly, great causes, from slavery abolitionists, to suffragettes, to anti-apartheid campaigners, are invariably unpopular at the very time they most need support – only to be glorified, even sanctified, once they have triumphed.

Not only his renowned wisdom, tolerance and steely leadership, but Nelson Mandela’s endearing personality made him perhaps the international icon of our era – with, at least to those who had the privilege of knowing him, an impish, mischievous wit. Apologising for not being able to attend our wedding in 2003, he asked: ‘but perhaps I can come the next time?’

At Cardiff Castle in 1998 on a burning hot day, he kept a long line of VIPs waiting as he spotted a group of primary school children. He stopped. The VIPs sweltered, the children bemused. Then he proceeded to conduct the by now delighted youngsters to an impromptu ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ – doubtless taught him by those Christian Missionaries.

‘The thing we missed most of all on Robben Island’, he once told me, ‘was the magical, innocent sound of children at play.’
Including his own of course.

There will never be another like Nelson Mandela – truly an inspiration to us all, and for evermore.

The quiet rebels who opposed apartheid

Observer

History is replete with the most ordinary people carrying out the most extraordinary actions. Adelaine and Walter Hain, English-speaking white South Africans, spent years trying to protect anti-apartheid activists. Their heroics were low-key – hosting meetings, visiting prisoners, smuggling messages – but their constancy was admirable. The story of Ad and Wal is told by their better-known son, Peter, who came to the fore in the 1970s with his campaign against South African sports and rose to become a member of Tony Blair’s cabinet.

 

The pivotal moments of the apartheid regime, from the Sharpeville massacre to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, are well documented. This account spans these events and more, but its focus lies elsewhere. It is the small acts of cruelty and kindness that make this narrative so captivating.

 

The more active the Hain family became in fighting apartheid, the more debilitating and vindictive were the restrictions imposed on them. Special branch officers were regular visitors to their home, burly men with menacing voices, and on occasion Hain’s parents were taken in for questioning. Banned from public meetings and other activities “calculated to further the aims of communism”, Wal, an architect, was forced to watch young Peter playing sports from his parked car outside the school playing fields.

 

The pettiness of the apartheid regime’s attempt at racial segregation is well told. One couple, Fabian Ribeiro, a doctor, and his wife, Florence, were an extremely rare breed – wealthy blacks. Non-whites were not allowed to own a house in their township, send their children to the school of their choice or take their family on holiday, since there were no resorts for them. So the Ribeiros drove a Mercedes and dressed well. The problem was that non-whites were not allowed to try on clothes before purchasing. So Pretoria’s top clothes shop, which wanted Florence’s custom, arranged secret fittings for her after hours.

 

With so many comrades, black and white, in detention, Ad found ingenious ways of getting messages through to them by way of food parcels. She put pencil lead inside a sausage to enable one of the detainees to write. She took “the pith out of an orange, gluing it back after inserting a message inside, or after cooking a whole onion, sliding a note between the leaves to be covered as it cooled”.

 

The most horrific incident in the book is the hanging of their close friend John Harris, the only white man to be executed for political insurrection by the apartheid regime. The book begins with a graphic description of his last moments and the contortions of the dead body. Harris did plant a bomb in July 1964 at the whites-only concourse at Johannesburg railway station, killing an elderly woman and injuring two dozen other people. He had wanted to create a political moment, but not to kill. He had phoned through a warning to the authorities but they deliberately ignored it, calculating that the prospect of whites dying from terrorism would allow them to clamp down further. Eventually the harassment became too much for Ad and Wal, who left their homeland for Britain with a heavy heart. At this point the author becomes a leading light in the anti-apartheid struggle, but his use of the third person to describe his own activities, and even his personality, does jar.

 

That criticism aside, this is a beguiling book that casts a light not just on the politics of the time but on human motivation. There were some in the Hains’ circle, including members of their extended family, who shunned them for causing trouble. Others betrayed their friends, testifying against them either to secure their own release or plea bargain, or out of cowardice. Yet there were more who did what they could to stand up against injustice, including the unassuming but dogged Wal and Ad.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/02/ad-and-wal-review-peter-hain-anti-apartheid