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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 January 2008, 12:29 GMT
An extraordinary political story
Betsan Powys
By Betsan Powys
BBC Wales political editor

Peter Hain
Peter Hain 's Cabinet career started under Tony Blair's premiership

The end of Peter Hain's career in the UK Government marks a final chapter in what has been an extraordinary story in British political life.

Peter Hain is one of the few MPs to have been in government ever since Labour came into office in 1997, under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The Neath MP has been the second longest-serving Secretary of State for Wales - after Conservative Nick Edwards - and the longest-serving Labour one.

He was among the first cabinet ministers to publicly back Gordon Brown to succeed Tony Blair but was seen as a controversial, sometimes outspoken minister.

He was a Wales office minister from 1997 to 1999 and while there he managed Alun Michael's campaign for the leadership of Welsh Labour.

He was moved to the Foreign Office and served first as Africa minister.

Mr Hain had supported Robert Mugabe in the struggle against white minority rule in Rhodesia but he backed Zimbabwe's white farmers' rights and Mugabe attacked him as a "racist".

He was also Middle East minister where he was involved in negotiations for an independent Palestinian state and a secure Israel, and for a time South Asia Minister.

Mr Hain moved briefly to the Department of Trade and Industry in 2001 where he was involved in reviewing the compensation scheme for miners suffering from chronic lung disease and claims it resulted in billions of pounds in compensation being awarded to miners.

He was then appointed Europe minister, again in the Foreign Office, staying until 2002. Here it is widely believed he was given a licence to speak on controversial issues.

From 2003 to 2005 Mr Hain was Leader of the House of Commons and moved to modernise the institution's working hours. He also abolished the term "strangers" for those visiting the Commons.

A young Peter Hain (left) on an anti-apartheid demonstration
A young Peter Hain (left) on an anti-apartheid demonstration

In May 2005 until June 2007 he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland but retained his role as Secretary of State for Wales.

He has been in his Wales Office post since 2002, and has attracted controversy for wearing two political hats, amid accusations that he was unable to concentrate on his job as Welsh Secretary.

At the Northern Ireland office he achieved a very high profile after helping broker the historic power-sharing agreement between unionists and republicans at Stormont.

Since last year Peter Hain has also been Secretary of State for Work and Pensions where he has pursued policies which would take people off incapacity benefit and into the workforce.

He has a reputation for making controversial statements - in 1999 in the New Statesman he attacked his own government saying it was ignoring the party's traditional supporters.

Labour grassroots

He provoked huge anger among euro-sceptics when he dismissed the controversial EU constitution as a "tidying up exercise" and said those campaigning for a referendum should "put away their placards" - particularly ironic given his background in political activism.

But it was his old-Labour style remarks which appeared to appeal to Labour grass roots which got him into firmly into the headlines.

Within weeks of taking over from John Reid as Commons leader he caused real embarrassment within government circles over remarks that higher earners should contribute more in tax.

He also said later that ministers should be less concerned with "alienating" middle Britain and instead make a virtue of "redistribution".

Peter Hain was born in Nairobi and brought up in South Africa. His parents were anti-apartheid activists in the South African Liberal Party and were forced to leave and set up home in London in 1966 when he was 16.

Peter Hain on a visit to the site of the Severn Barrage
As Welsh Secretary on a visit to the site of the Severn Barrage

He was a leading figure in the anti-apartheid movements of the late sixties and seventies. As a radical young Liberal Hain was chair of the Stop the Seventy cricket tour of England by the white South African cricket team in 1970.

He became president of the Young Liberals in 1971 where his campaigning against the South African regime continued.

In 1975 Hain was even accused of robbing a bank but acquitted of all charges after a 10-day trial. He is certain it was an attempt by the then South African regime to discredit him.

In 1977 he joined Labour and worked first as a trade union researcher before moving up the Labour ranks. He won the Neath seat in a by-election in 1991 and established his left-wing credentials with membership of the Tribune Group.

He played a key role in the Yes campaign, during the 1997 referendum on devolution when Neath Port Talbot saw the biggest percentage vote in favour of the creation of the Welsh assembly - 66.5 per cent.

Some see that as one of his most important - and lasting - political legacies.

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