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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 10:53 GMT
Profile: Peter Hain
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Commons leader Peter Hain is a highly ambitious politician, with a reputation for speaking his mind.

Peter Hain
The Commons' leader is known for speaking his mind
Or dropping political clangers, depending on your point of view.

His latest comments that the UK is more secure under a Labour government is the latest in a long line of remarks which, by accident or design, have seen him dominate the headlines.

As a Foreign Office minister, many believed he was given licence by Tony Blair to say the unsayable on Europe, something he indulged in with apparent glee.

He often came under fire for his supposed gaffes, which many in Westminster saw as deliberate attempts to test the water of public opinion on the euro and other controversial matters.

Provoking anger

In early 2003 he provoked genuine anger among Eurosceptics when he dismissed the EU Constitution as a "tidying up exercise".

His appeal to those campaigning for a referendum to "put away their placards" also seemed provocative to some, particularly given his own history of political activism.

He then landed himself in trouble with his own party by appearing to suggest the European elections should be a referendum on the constitution.

"I would be quite happy to fight the next European elections on a Labour platform endorsing this treaty, and the Conservatives can oppose it, and then the people will decide," he told the Today programme.


A self-confessed Kinnockite, Mr Hain has also displayed the odd flash of old-time socialism from time to time.

Within weeks of taking over from John Reid as Commons' leader, he was slapped down by Tony Blair following remarks that higher earners should contribute more in tax.

He returned to the theme the following July, saying ministers should be less concerned about "alienating" middle Britain and instead make a virtue of "redistribution".

Last September he hit the headlines for rather different reasons when he was besieged by pro-hunt campaigners at his Welsh home on the eve of the Labour conference.

Mr Hain was born in Nairobi and brought up in South Africa. He was educated at Pretoria Boys High School, the University of London and Sussex University.

Prominent activist

In 1969, when a 16-year-old Tony Blair was still at school, he was a leading anti-apartheid campaigner, making the headlines with his disruption of the all-white South African rugby team's tour of the UK.

Mr Hain started his political career as a Young Liberal and became chairman of that organisation in 1971.

He continued to be a prominent activist throughout the 1970s.

The South African security services even attempted to have him framed for a bank robbery in 1975, but he was acquitted of all charges.

He joined the Labour Party in 1977 and worked as a trade union official until entering the Commons at a 1991 by-election.

His left wing credentials were established by his membership of the Tribune Group, a reputation underlined by his Commons performances.

Foreign Office job

But this did not prevent him from being granted a seat on New Labour's frontbench following Tony Blair's 1997 general election victory.

His first job in government was a junior Welsh Office minister, where he found himself responsible for managing Alun Michael's campaign for the leadership of Welsh Labour.

Mr Hain was then moved to the Foreign Office as minister for Africa, where he enjoyed a much higher profile than is normal for that role with interventions over Zimbabwe.

After a short stint at the Department of Trade and Industry as energy minister, he returned to the Foreign Office after the 2001 general election as minister for Europe.

At one time, Mr Hain was known as one of the more Eurosceptic Labour MPs, but his new role saw him transformed into an enthusiastic supporter of British entry into the European single currency.

He was also given a seat on the Convention on the Future of Europe - which came up with the blueprint for the EU constitution.

In October 2002, he replaced Paul Murphy as secretary of state for Wales and then was given the additional role of leader of the Commons in June 2003.

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