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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 12:51 GMT
Hain - the establishment radical
Peter Hain
Hain: experienced apartheid at first hand
Peter Hain is a rarity among the current crop of government ministers.

He came relatively late to the Labour movement and, unlike most of his colleagues, had already made a name for himself in radical politics.

As a Young Liberal in the 1960s, Mr Hain was a leading campaigner against racism in southern Africa.

He was known as Hain the Pain, in particular for his efforts to disrupt the Springboks' 1970 rugby tour by staging pitch invasions and even gluing the locks on the players' hotel rooms.

Peter Hain demonstrating against Apartheid
The radical: Campaigning against apartheid
He was a scourge not only of the South Africans, but also of middle England which believed that sport and politics should not be mixed.

His stance was a brave one, especially as Mr Hain had already gained first-hand experience of the kind of measures Pretoria would adopt to try to silence its opponents.

He had been brought up in South Africa where he was embroiled in political activism.

Frustrated ambition

Mr Hain's parents became the first married couple to become banned persons under the oppressive apartheid regime. They had to seek a special dispensation even to talk to each other. They were forced into exile in Britain when Hain was 16.

As South Africa's public enemy number one, Hain was sent a letter bomb in 1972 that failed to explode only because of faulty wiring.

Peter Hain's Career
1950 Born in Nairobi
1970 Chair of Stop the 70 Tour
1977 Leaves Liberals for Labour
1991 Wins by-election at Neath
1997 Becomes government minister
2001 Handed key role of Europe Minister
Three years later, he was accused of robbing a bank but acquitted after a 10-day trial. He is certain it was an attempt by Pretoria to frame him.

Mr Hain felt his ambition constrained in the Liberals, so he defected to Labour in 1977 and worked as a trade union researcher.

In the 1980s, as a member of the so-called "soft left", he worked closely with Neil Kinnock, urging the modernisation of the party.

He became MP for the Welsh seat of Neath in 1991 and, soon after, became secretary of the left-leaning Tribune group.

In 1997 he was offered a front bench job, first in the Whip's office in opposition, then as under-secretary for Wales after the election.

His modernising tendencies appealed to Tony Blair, who was further impressed by his energetic work during the referendum campaigns in Scotland and Wales.

He was brought into the government as minister of state with special responsibility for Africa and the Middle East, making the former firebrand part of the establishment.

Crucial role

After the 2001 election, Mr Hain was handed the high-profile role of Europe Minister, replacing the widely-reviled Keith Vaz.

Central to the job - and arguably to Mr Blair's own agenda for a second term - is the process of 'softening up' the electorate for a referendum on the euro.

In handing him this key role, Mr Blair was, no doubt, interested in Mr Hain's credentials as a former eurosceptic rather than his campaigning past.

The prime minister's logic being that the pro-euro message would be more convincing coming from the lips of a convert.

But Mr Hain quickly showed he had lost none of his agitator's talent for grabbing headlines.

As the advanced guard of Labour's pro-euro wing, he has delighted in ruffling the feathers of the 'keep the pound' campaign.

His suggestion that euro entry may be 'inevitable" and that Britain could one day find itself isolated as the only member of a 25 country EU not signed up to the single currency are just two recent examples.

Peter Hain campaigning for Labour at the 1991 Neath by-election
The victor: Winning Neath for Labour in 1991

But Mr Hain has shown in the past that he is not afraid to defy the party line on a point of principle.

In 2000, in The New Statesman, he launched a scathing attack on his own government by accusing it of ignoring the party's traditional supporters.

But this has not stopped some of his former fellow travellers branding him a traitor.

Peter Hain with his ministerial Red Box
The minister: Not afraid to speak his mind
John Pilger, angry at the government's sanctions policy towards Iraq, said Hain had "metamorphosed from a principled political activist to yet another Foreign Office mouthpiece".

Mr Hain maintains that while his government responsibilities have necessitated some rethinking, he still describes himself as a "libertarian socialist".

His remarks, in The Spectator, on the state of Britain's railways, have thrust him into the headlines once more.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK railways Europe's worst - minister
01 Apr 00 | UK Politics
UK anger over Zimbabwe violence
01 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK 'would lose power' outside euro
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Euro peer pressure mounts on Blair
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