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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Ministers seen as 'automatons' - Hain
Peter Hain MP
Peter Hain: "The best form of defence is attack"
Members of the government risk being seen as remote "automatons" unless they get back in touch with the electorate, Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain has warned.

He says the government's good track record on economic management has not registered with the voters, who do not see Tony Blair's administration as "their government".

We must be unrelenting and aggressive in reminding voters that if they stay at home the Tories will surely be back

Peter Hain
The Neath MP pinpointed the apparent remoteness of ministers as a key problem. His comments came on the same day Mr Blair was launching the government's annual report.

Writing in a pamphlet "Must Labour Choose?" for the Labour group Progress, Mr Hain insisted ministers must do more than just meet their departmental responsibilities as the next general election approaches.

"It is time ministers shook off the burdens of 'departmentalism' and began acting much more politically," he said.

"A combination of sheer pressure and caution makes some of us sound like automatons: technocratically professional but congenitally uninspiring."

Licensed critic

Left-winger Mr Hain has lately gained a reputation as something of a licensed critic.

Last year, while at the Welsh Office and following Labour's lacklustre showing in the Welsh Assembly elections, Mr Hain warned his own government it was coming across as "gratuitously offensive" to Labour supporters.

And this time round Downing Street was aware of the contents of his pamphlet before it appeared.

In it, Mr Hain advised that the best form of defence was attack.

"We must be unrelenting and aggressive in reminding voters that if they stay at home the Tories will surely be back with all their dreadful baggage and callous extremism."

The minister said that most of the government's problems had been "peculiarly self-inflicted".

Enthusing the electorate, he said, required the motivation of Labour's own members "without whom we won't have the ability to campaign".

He also called for greater respect to be paid to party activists "without whom ministers and MPs wouldn't have their jobs".

And the government, he said, must ensure party members felt a sense of ownership of government policies which was "patently lacking now".

Relaunch efforts

Mr Hain's comments came as Mr Blair sought to steer media attention away from difficulties in recent weeks. Instead Mr Blair is keen to focus on the government's record on job creation and its stewardship of the economy.

Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam said Mr Hain was correct to say that ministers should be more active in putting Labour's record to the country, but the criticism must be balanced by praise for the government's achievements.

"I just say look at the track record. Criticisms are there and we take and accept some of them as long as people give criticisms and positive stories," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What Peter is saying is get out there and tell people what we are doing and what we are doing in this annual report... He's right in saying that everybody should get out and sell - including Peter Hain."

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