Lord Hain on growing up in crisis, letterbombs and a Kafka-esque plot
November 24, 2023. Series 7. Episode 77
Former Secretary of State Lord Peter Hain’s remarkable life was forged in crisis.
His parents’ peaceful but determined activism against apartheid – and the drama that surrounded his family as a result – was the backdrop to Peter’s upbringing in South Africa.
The Hains were constantly harassed – and at one stage jailed by the South African security services.
When a close family friend was convicted and executed for the bombing of a railway station – an attack which his family condemned – it was Peter, aged just 15, who spoke at the funeral.
Peter’s parents moved to the UK in 1966 … exiled from the country they loved.
He joined the British anti-apartheid movement and aged just 19 became the Chairman of the infamous Stop the 70 Tour which organised direct action against South Africa’s proposed cricket tour of England. A major success for the anti-apartheid movement.
Peter’s campaigning led to him being followed and bugged by Mi5, receiving death threats and becoming the subject of an assassination attempt.
A life in British politics beckoned for Peter … but not before more extraordinary drama and crisis.
As a Labour politician he held office as Welsh Secretary, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Northern Ireland Secretary, playing a key role in negotiating the power sharing settlement in 2007.
His time in politics also brought more personal crisis – a donations scandal that he described as a ‘soul searing experience’
Now in the Lords, Peter continues to campaign and as an author he’s written 29 books including biographies of Mandela, his own brilliant biography A Pretoria Boy and a series of novels focused on the crisis of animal conservation. The latest, The Elephant Conspiracy (see link below) has just been released.
A fascinating conversation with someone who has lived, breathed and experienced crisis from so many different angles.
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Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682
Buy Peter’s latest book here – The Elephant Conspiracy: Volume 2
Also read his earlier book – ‘A Pretoria Boy: The Story of South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’
Host – Andy Coulson
CWC production team: Louise Difford and Jane Sankey
With special thanks to Global
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Lord Peter Hain: [0:00:00] Suddenly this thing appeared out of a brown envelope, a bulky brown envelope, which had wires and all sorts of electrical protuberances on it, set in balsa wood, but it didn’t go off because there was a- Scotland Yard told us there was this fault in the trigger mechanism. A small wiring fault that prevented it from going off. Otherwise, they said, it would have blown the whole house up, let alone me and my parents.
Andy Coulson: [0:00:33] Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, welcome, and please do hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening. It really helps make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.
Our guest today is someone whose remarkable life was forged in crisis. Born in Nairobi in 1950, Lord Peter Hain as a very young child moved with his parents to South Africa. His mum and dad, Walter and Adelaine, were young members of the Liberal Party and passionate anti-apartheid campaigners.
Their peaceful but determined activism and the dramatic crises that engulfed his family were the backdrop to Peter’s upbringing. The Hains were constantly harassed by the South African security services. Aged just ten, Peter was woken by agents searching his bedroom for incriminating documents. A year later his parents were jailed for supporting Nelson Mandela’s Defiance campaign. They were later released, but the impact on the family was devastating.
And when a close family friend, John Harris, was convicted and executed for the bombing of a railway station, an attack which his family condemned, it was Peter, aged just 15, who spoke at the funeral.
Unable to earn a living, Peter’s parents later moved to the UK in 1966, exiled in fact from the country that they loved. Peter joined the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, and aged just 19 became the Chairman of the Stop the Seventy Tour which organised direct action against South Africa’s proposed cricket tour of England, which was eventually stopped. A major success for the anti-apartheid movement.
Peter famously led demonstrations that disrupted sport, including South Africa’s 1969 UK rugby tour. Reports of those protests even reached Nelson Mandela, then imprisoned on Robben Island. Mandela would become a close friend.
Peter’s campaigning led him to be despised in conservative British society and seen as a traitor, public enemy number one in fact, by white South Africans. He was followed and bugged by MI5, received death threats and was the subject of an assassination attempt; a letter bomb sent through the post to his home, which thankfully failed to detonate.
A life in British politics beckoned for Peter, but not before more extraordinary drama and crisis. We’ll talk about that. As a Labour politician he held office as Welsh Secretary, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Northern Ireland Secretary, playing a key role in negotiating the power sharing settlement of 2007.
His time in politics also brought more personal crisis. A donation scandal that he described as a soul searing experience.
Now in the Lord’s, Peter continues to campaign on a whole range of issues. As an author he has also written twenty-nine books including biographies of Mandela, his own brilliant biography A Pretoria Boy and a series of novels that focus on the crisis of animal conservation. The latest, The Elephant Conspiracy, has just been released.
So, an awful lot to talk about with someone who has lived, breathed, experienced crisis from so many different angles. Peter, Lord Hain, welcome to Crisis What Crisis.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:03:52] Thank you Andy, good to be with you.
Andy Coulson: [0:03:56] Peter, even with that abbreviated summary it’s hard not to conclude that you appear to be someone who is quite comfortable in the company of crisis.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:04:07] Well, listening to-
Andy Coulson: [0:04:07] Have I got that right?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:04:08] Listening to you reciting it, it may sound like that, but it’s not the way I recall it, not the way I see it. Yes, a lot of crises happened to our family, to me, and crises are part of politics as you know better than anybody else. But I don’t feel it to have lived a life that is constantly tormented by crisis. More that things happened and then it’s how you react and how you deal with it.
Andy Coulson: [0:04:38] We’ll get into this in more detail I’m sure, but there are several moments in your life, points in your- sliding doors in your life, where you know, most people I think would have pointed themselves back towards somewhere safer, calmer, a bit easier.
Each time when those moments come in your life it seems actually that you turn the other way, you turn into the wind, if you like, and sort of you know, shoulder down, straight into what you know will be controversial, difficult, hard moments. That seems to be your instinct.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:05:16] I suppose there are two sides of that. One is if a crisis hits you then you have to deal with it. And I suppose the first one that I can think that really hit me, and you referred to it in passing, was being woken up as an eleven-year-old in the early hours of the morning to be told my parents had been put in jail. Not, you know, for stealing something or beating somebody up, but just for planning a leaflet to support Nelson Mandela’s call for black workers, normally serving the white community in Pretoria where we lived, to stay at home in a kind of a strike, defiance.
And I remember being quite frightened about it, but then I was the eldest of four boys, of four children rather, a brother and two sisters, and so I needed to wake them up to tell them.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:08] What were the conversations like with your dad? I mean, when your mum and dad came back, because they were arrested, they were thrown in a cell, they were thankfully released not that long after I don’t think, and came home. But it was perfectly clear that this was going to be the beginning of a very difficult period. The harassment, the following, the kind of agents at the end of the drive, people coming into your bedroom, that this was the beginning of all that.
What were the conversations like around the kitchen table? Because you did have this kind of two track life where they were wonderful parents, pretty nice actually middle-class life it sounds from the book, lots of normal stuff going on. Lovely school, playing a lot of sport. And then this other track in your life that you’ve just touched on that is completely surreal, for an adult let alone a child.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:06:51] Yes. Well certainly very different from any of my cousins, any of my school friends. I mean, they lived a normal, white South African childhood, a life of that kind of thing. And so for me we were always slightly different and yet they were the same. So I’d be playing cricket or football with my mates.
But I remember when my dad was issued with a banning order, and we’ll no doubt come to that. One of the clauses of the banning order was that you couldn’t go on an educational premises; it was designed to stop you being politically active. And so he came to- he always used to come and try and watch me play cricket after work, after work had finished, and I’d be playing in the afternoon into the evening on mostly sunny days. In fact they always seemed like sunny days.
And this time, and from then on, he stood the other side of the school fence, on the street, to watch. Because he couldn’t-
Andy Coulson: [0:07:49] He’s not allowed.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:07:50] He wasn’t allowed to come as he always had, alongside the field to watch us. And I remember my fellow cricket schoolmates saying, “What’s your dad doing over there?” And I said, “It’s because he’s been issued with a banning order. It’s against the law for him to come inside the school premises.” And they didn’t know what a banning order was, and for them it was just very odd indeed.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:14] But that’s also a sort of very poignant picture, right? You’re a young lad having to see his dad through a fence, knowing that- I mean, the conversations at home Peter, how was this explained to you? Or did it just- did you work it out for yourself?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:08:30] No, it was explained. Mum and Dad were very good at explaining things to us, what was happening. They took quite a lot of- made quite a lot of effort, for me as the eldest but also my fellow siblings, to explain what was going on. And they had actually warned us in weeks before that the pressure was building up, that they might be detained. A lot of our friends were being detained, we knew of other people who were being arrested, were jailed, issued with banning orders.
And the police were constantly parked at the bottom of our drive or outside the gate. We were under surveillance the whole time, sometimes I’d be followed to school on my bike.
All that kind if thing was going on, and yet they were also doing what normal parents do; helping you with your schoolwork, giving you advice, telling you off if you did something wrong.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:34] Your parents sound incredible.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:09:36] Well I thought they were, but they would describe themselves as ordinary people, but they were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Because only an infinitesimally small percentage of the white community stood up against the apartheid system that gave them the most privileged existence in the world.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:54] Yes. Do you remember the anger at that age?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:09:58] No. You know, I’ve never been somebody who has got terribly angry. I’ve got annoyed about things that I think are unjust or wrong, or you know, the situations we all find ourselves in which cause the temperature to rise. But angry, I think anger tends to sort of boil over into something that’s not controlled, and that’s not something that I’ve ever felt I wanted to do.
You know, getting annoyed yes, but anger implies you’re boiling with rage and you want to clock somebody and all of that. What’s the point?
Andy Coulson: [0:10:33] And is that borne out of the lessons that you were getting from your parents, let’s say around that kitchen table? Because they were clearly passionate about the cause, the anti-apartheid cause, but you didn’t see them get angry about it?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:10:50] Oh yes, my mother particularly was a very emotional person and she would get angry. She’d get angry with us from time to time if we were misbehaving and give us a smack, which wouldn’t be allowed today but it never bothered us except it deterred you from doing it again.
Andy Coulson: [0:11:08] Yes.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:11:09] My dad was much more stoic and phlegmatic, and he was somebody who would tell you off, or he would reprimand you or explain why he thought what you were doing was wrong. But he would very seldom shout and scream. My mum was slightly different, different temperaments.
I think probably I’ve learned more and absorbed more, imbibed more might be the better term, from my dad who was, you know, a fairly phlegmatic character.
Andy Coulson: [0:11:43] Can we talk about John Harris? He was a family friend, also an activist but someone whose activism, I hope I sort of put this in the right way, took a slightly darker turn. Your parents did not believe in violence, it seems he did. And although there was evidence that he attempted to give a warning ahead of the bombing of a railway station-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:12:06] He did give a warning.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:08] He did give a warning. His attack killed a woman and injured others. Your family condemned the attack but continued to support him and his family, actually for a long time thereafter.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:12:23] Yes. I mean, what happened was there were a group of younger radical activists in the Liberal Party of South Africa, by that time- we’re talking about 1964 when I was fourteen. By that time the rest of the anti-apartheid resistance had been suppressed. Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island, many of his senior leadership comrades were as well.
So the Liberal Party of South Africa, particularly in the citadel of apartheid, this is the capital, the seat of government of the country where we lived, was- my mum and dad and the Liberal Party generally were kind of centre stage for harassment by the security services, who were ruthless. People died in prison, people were assassinated, people disappeared and so on. Aside from being arrested and issued with banning orders.
And so there was a group of young radicals, including John Harris who was a teacher, a devoted teacher, as was his wife Anne, and a very good teacher, got increasingly frustrated. They thought, “Well, you know, marches had got you nowhere, petitions had got you nowhere, letters to the government and to the newspaper had got you nowhere. We need to do something more dramatic.”
So he planned, with a fellow conspirator John Lloyd one of his closest friends, both Liberal Party members, he planned what he saw was a spectacular demonstration of defiance against apartheid, faced with the suppression of all non-violent, peaceful, legal opposition.
And he gave a fifteen-minute warning. He placed a bomb in a suitcase on a station platform, he gave a fifteen-minute warning to the police and to the newspapers, which was recorded in court and not disputed by the prosecution when he was tried for this. But they deliberately ignored it, and the evidence subsequently came out that it actually suited the Head of Security and the Police Minister subsequently Prime Minister John Vorster.
So the bomb went off. My parents didn’t know who had committed it. He was a family friend, I remember him coming round to our house, always interested in sport, he’d got a new Volkswagen Beetle and was driving us very fast around corners, which my brother and I enjoyed. So he was that kind of guy, playing table tennis with him and so on.
Then we heard about the bomb going off on the radio, I remember listening to it and going to talk about it to my mum and dad and they didn’t know who had committed it. And the next day John’s wife Anne, a close family friend, arrived with I think six-week-old baby David, to say that John had been detained in Pretoria, not Johannesburg where they lived, and she couldn’t drive, could my mum and dad take food parcels to him. And they immediately said, “Well you know, you can’t commute from Johannesburg when you can’t drive,” which was forty-five minutes away, “Why don’t you move in?” And at that stage they still didn’t know that he was actually the bomber, because lots of people were being detained, many of their friends were being detained.
It was only later that they found out, and that Anne had known all along. But they took a decision to stand by his family and in a sense by him, even though they fiercely opposed what he had done.
Andy Coulson: [0:16:07] And with a degree of risk to themselves.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:16:09] Oh yes. That whole episode accelerated the crisis around the family, because my dad was banned soon afterwards. The pressure on us when it was known that we had provided a roof over the head of John Harris’ wife and baby was pretty kind of fierce. Because that bomb going off struck fear into the white community.
Andy Coulson: [0:16:38] Yes, yes.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:16:38] They were used to blacks dying, but they weren’t used to numbers of their own people either dying or being injured as in this case.
Andy Coulson: [0:16:47] Yes. And then of course another layer of darkness; he is convicted, he is sentenced to death, that execution is carried out. Before we get to you speaking at his funeral, that is a horrific set of circumstances for a young child, you and your brother and sisters, to be right at the centre of.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:17:10] Well yes it was, because I didn’t know much about hanging by the neck, but I had discussed with my dad his opposition to capital punishment and why he didn’t agree with it. And he was quite widely read, he quoted various authors like Albert Camus and others that were prominent at the time, who were arguing about the death penalty.
So we had had these discussions, but here was suddenly a close friend who was about to be executed. And you know, being hung by the neck is a pretty grisly business. I describe it in-
Andy Coulson: [0:17:48] You do, yes.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:17:48] And I thought it was important to describe it, because I researched it afterwards, because it’s truly depraved. So we were thinking about this, and you know, my brother and I were thinking, “Can we James Bond style try and get him out of prison?” We were little boys, it was all a fantasy.
Andy Coulson: [0:18:08] We talk about kids being tougher than you think, and they kind of get through these things and you know, young people are so resilient. What impact do you think all that actually had on you? And let’s talk about that in a context of- let’s explain, I think I’m right in saying very soon after the execution there’s a funeral. I think I’m right in saying-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:18:28] Yes, he was executed at 5am in the morning, and I think the funeral was at 7am. So it was pretty close.
Andy Coulson: [0:18:36] And you’re tasked with standing up at the funeral in your school uniform and speaking.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:18:41] Yes, because I was due to go to school that day, and did after the funeral. But what had happened was only the night before my dad who was banned, as I’ve explained, he was suddenly refused permission to perform the funeral address. It wasn’t a eulogy, it was simply the order of service and a poem and- No Man is an Island, John Donne’s poem, and then reading through, announcing the hymns to be sung and things like that. We Shall Overcome, the Battle Hymn of the Republic were in it.
So he had- with Anne and my mum’s input as well, because they were very much a team my mum and dad, had prepared this address, and suddenly there was nobody to deliver it.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:34] Because they weren’t allowed to.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:19:35] They were not allowed to. And I didn’t expect to do it, but I said, “Well, is there anything I can do?” and Anne said, “Well, would you do it?” There wasn’t really anybody else, so it wasn’t that I was as it were-
Andy Coulson: [0:19:50] You’re fifteen years old, Peter.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:19:53] Yes I know. And funnily enough I’d never wanted to be on the stage. People may not believe this now, but I’d never wanted to-
Andy Coulson: [0:20:01] So public speaking, it’s not like you were-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:20:03] No, I’d never been in a school play, anything like that. So it was pretty nervy.
Andy Coulson: [0:20:07] Can you remember the moment, now? Can you sort of picture it?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:20:12] Yes, I certainly can. I can remember being taken up to the- and I’ve been back to the chapel which is still there, unchanged from that day in 1965. It was 1st April, April Fool’s Day some might say.
Andy Coulson: [0:20:28] I think I’m right in saying that it was your responsibility to press the button that sent the coffin off.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:20:34] Yes, that was the most scary thing because they- my mum and dad had said, “I hope you’re going to be okay, this is what you should- we want you to read this out,” and so I was able to rehearse that a bit. But nobody had said- there was the coffin next to me, nobody had said that there was a button, and at what- I think they might have said, “You have to press a button to release the coffin to be cremated, and to go through the sort of doors that open,” as we all know from crematoria. But nobody had said when to do it.
So that, in the middle of this I thought, “When should I do it?” And I thought probably the best time was during the song immortalised during the American civil rights marches by Martin Luther King and Joan Baez and so on, We Shall Overcome. So it was during that that I pressed it. But that was the most- the thing that I remember most about how scary it was.
Andy Coulson: [0:21:34] I suppose what sits behind the question is there will be people listening to this, as you know this podcast is all about lessons for crisis. And I suppose the lesson that this question is related to is how do we behave around our children, young people, who find themselves in the orbit of crisis?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:21:53] I mean, in terms of advice for parents, and I’m a parent myself and a grandparent of seven grandchildren, is that I think you have to set an example. You have to try and be your best. None of us are our best, we’re all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all do things that are wrong, that’s in the nature of being a human being.
But they were not- they didn’t reveal much of their anguish about everything, I think they shielded that a bit from us. Though my mum suddenly, you know, that was often evident despite her doing that. I think it’s the fact that you were living a normal life as a kid juxtaposed with an abnormal life.
If there had been no normal side to it, if there hadn’t been the fun side to it of birthdays and you know, fun around the house that all parents have with their kids as well as the frustrations that they have with their kids. I think if it hadn’t been that, if they were just 100% political, and there had been some families, white families in a similar situation where there were breaches with their kids. Because I suspect that there wasn’t enough time or emotional room, space, to just be normal parents and do your best.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:20] Well, the only conclusion you can reach again, as I’ve already touched on, is your parents were clearly astonishing people.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:23:25] I think they were, but they didn’t see themselves that way. They kept saying, “Look, you know, you think of the Mandelas, the Sisulus, all these people who gave up the best years of their life, the people who died, the people who were killed by the police. What we did was small stuff compared with that.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:45] Well the truly astonishing people rarely do see themselves as astonishing.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:23:48] Exactly.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:50] It’s the ones that do that you need to worry about.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:23:51] That you need to watch for, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:54] The situation, as we’ve touched on, becomes a lot worse for your family. It becomes impossible for your dad, just from a practical level, to earn a living. He’s an architect I think. And you are essentially as a family driven out of South Africa and you come to London.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:24:07] It was impossible, by the way, because the government issued instructions through the security services that he was not to be employed as an architect specialising in hospital design.
Andy Coulson: [0:24:19] Just tell me, arriving in London. How did that feel? Do you remember the emotions?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:24:24] What sort of struck me most about being driven by a friend into London, because he picked us up at Southampton Docks, was- I had a kind of colonial boy’s view of England as being about kings and queens and royalty and you know, all of that, because that’s what we learned at school. We didn’t learn any real economic social history about England, it was all about the upper classes.
And I remember being really struck by the degree of poverty that was around in the streets around us. It was obviously that people were not living any kind of grand life. Now, that’s very naïve for a sixteen-year-old, but that was one of things that- and it was cold and it was wet.
Andy Coulson: [0:25:08] I do think though, I think this is one of those sliding door moments that I was alluding to earlier. You’ll tell me whether I’m right. You’ve arrived here, you’ve seen the effects of activism, you’ve been fully immersed in a full-blown crisis. You’re driven out, you arrive here, your instinct now- you’re sixteen years old, I think I’m right in saying, is not to look for security and safety but instead to sort of point yourself towards- yourself now as a young man, towards activism.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:25:57] Not immediately
Andy Coulson: [0:26:00] By the age of nineteen you’re the Chairman of an organisation that is absolutely in this country right at the centre stage. It’s not long.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:26:11] No, that’s a fair point Andy. But I just want to sort of qualify that by saying that the first weekend we were in London my mum and dad went on a nuclear disarmament demonstration, my brother and I went to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea. And that first summer we were going to Lord’s Cricket Ground to see the West Indies play-
Andy Coulson: [0:26:32] As a Spurs fan I’m tempted to say that that’s just more evidence of you pointing yourself towards crisis. But I will back away from that because it’s a dodgy argument. It’s a flawed argument.
Let’s talk about the Stop the Seventy Tour. You were outraged by South Africa’s refusal to allow the England team to tour in ’68 because they had a non-white players, Basil D’Oliveira. You were one of the first people, it seems to me, to realise the power of sport in politics. You’re nineteen years old. How did you get to that conclusion?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:27:07] Well, first of all I was sports mad, as you could gather from our recent exchanges. And I understood more than probably anybody else the importance of sport to white South African psychology, because I was a white South African boy.
And what’s most important to understand about that period is whereas apartheid was regarded with distaste and not much was done about it in London or Washington or any of the capitals of the world, but that’s a parallel story, white South African teams, racist teams, because you could only play for your country if you were white, were feted at Twickenham and Lord’s and allowed into the Olympics and so on.
So this gave them sort of compensation for being regarded as- for apartheid being disapproved of. And suddenly they were given hospitality in all the sports stadia and by the community. And so I knew if we could stop that we would really be hitting them hard. But I also-
Andy Coulson: [0:28:22] That’s quite a conclusion for a nineteen-year-old to- well, you were probably seventeen or eighteen at this stage.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:28:27] It evolved because as you say, the exclusion of Basil D’Oliveira, who by 1966, and I remember seeing him, was an established England cricket test player, born in the Cape Town area, a South African citizen of mixed blood and described officially in apartheid terms as coloured, had to come to England to further his career because he was a top cricketer. Got into the England Test team, then the South Africans ban him from- ban the tour.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:00] Yes. And English Cricket did not cover itself in glory.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:29:02] No, English Cricket had a pretty sordid role in that. But that’s, you know, a longer story. And then a few months after that as if nothing had happened, I mean this was unprecedented, you’d never had a government stepping in and banning England from touring because they had a non-white player in the side. And it was embarrassing to them because he was actually a South African born person of colour.
And then a few months later than that, as if nothing had happened, they issue an invitation to white South Africa to tour England in 1970. And I remember early in 1968 this news, being absolutely furious about it. And I was by then involved in the Young Liberals and becoming increasingly involved, and persuaded them to issue a press statement saying we were going to stop this tour.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:50] You’ve seen in the most visceral, dark, you know, you talk brilliantly about the funeral and that moment, you’ve seen the absolute worst of what can come from those kind of campaigns, that activism. And your conclusion is, “I’m going to have- now I’m becoming an adult myself, that is absolutely the direction that I’m going to go in.”
Lord Peter Hain: [0:30:18] Yes. I suppose because partly through conversations with my dad I’d always- he was somebody, and I think I probably inherited that, he was somebody who always wanted to be practical. Do things rather than just say things, and to do something rather than to be somebody. So he was impatient of rhetoric and grandstanding in politics, of which there’s a great deal as you know. He just wanted to get results.
And I thought, “I think we can do this, you know?” I was taking part in marches to stop arms being sold to white South Africa, to stop economic trade with apartheid and all those kinds of things, but that was really hard to get, to secure. Because you’re talking about jobs and the way that the commercial system works and so forth.
But I thought, “This is something we could actually do.” And I’d been on demonstrations where you held a placard outside Twickenham or Lord’s Cricket Ground, and frankly you were treated with disdain. People just marched past, sometimes shouted abuse at you, but nothing changed. So you held your placard up, “Don’t play with apartheid,” nothing changed. You wrote a letter to Lord’s Cricket Ground or Twickenham and nothing changed.
So I thought, “Well, let’s use-” because I’d been kind of then getting more politically involved as an eighteen-year-old in a period where there was the student revolt in Paris in 1968, there were the sit-ins at universities in the US-
Andy Coulson: [0:31:55] There was a real mood and a real movement.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:31:57] Amongst radical youth, yes. So why don’t we apply these non-violent direct action tactics? And I read a lot about them and about Ghandhi’s approach and so on, and the civil rights marches in America where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. So there was all this going on.
Why don’t we apply these tactics of non-violent direct action to physically stop the matches, by running on and sitting down on the pitch? Which is what we started to do.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:25] Very successfully. But it came with a lot of risk and a lot of criticism, here and in South Africa of course. You were public enemy number one, as described in the South African media I think.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:32:37] The white media.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:38] The white media. That must have impacted you. There must have been moments where you thought, “Is this right?”
Lord Peter Hain: [0:32:46] Well, I was getting-
Andy Coulson: [0:32:47] Sorry, not “Is this right?” “Do I push on?”
Lord Peter Hain: [0:32:51] No, I don’t think there was ever any doubt, it sort of strengthened my resolve really. The thing I felt personally most- at a personal level, was the hate within Britain.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:04] It’s the absence of fear that I’m interested in. Given that you’ve seen the-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:33:08] I don’t think anybody really can eliminate fear. We’re all scared about some things some time.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:19] You were certainly pushing it to one side.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:33:21] Yes, because I thought, “Well, this is what we need to do. I think we can win this, it could be decisive, stopping this 1970 cricket tour. We’ve just got to get ahead and do it.” And yes, there were all sorts of threats, and I got a- in those days there were no emails or mobile phones, let alone social media, so it all came in spidery sort of writing on letters and green ink and all these kind of-
Andy Coulson: [0:33:45] Death threats?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:33:46] Oh yes, all of that.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:46] You were followed by MI5, you find that out later I think.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:33:49] Yes, find that out later.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:53] And then a letter bomb.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:33:55] Yes. In June 1972 after we’d stopped the 1970 cricket tout and I was hated even more for doing that here in Britain as well, because most sports fans didn’t understand why we were stopping their sport.
Andy Coulson: [0:34:07] No, all they thought was that you’ve just wrecked summer.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:34:11] Yes. And my first job interview the question I was asked was, “Do you really hate cricket?” and this was at a Trade Union. I mean, I played cricket and I loved sport.
But no, it didn’t deflect me. And even when during the protests that I was organising and leading against the Springbok rugby tour, because that was in the winter of 1969/70 and became a kind of an arena to show that we could stop the 1970 cricket tour which was our real objective, so we organised demonstrations against that.
And I was warned by a solicitor friend that actually what I was doing was potentially breaching the law on conspiracy. Specifically he warned me about conspiracy, and even though minor offences like obstruction or public order offences or breach of the peace are these things even if they were non-violent, if you put conspiracy in front of them-
Andy Coulson: [0:35:08] And combined them all.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:35:09] Combined them all, that became an imprisonable offence. But I thought, “Well, I’m not going to be deflected by that, I’m not going to be deflected by threats, because then apartheid has won.”
Andy Coulson: [0:35:21] You’re being modest about it, if you don’t mind me challenging you for a second. Because that is, again, a hell of a conclusion for someone of that age to reach.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:35:32] Except I think Andy, at that sort of age you are far more likely to take risks than you are when you’ve got a mortgage and kids and grandchildren and so on.
Andy Coulson: [0:35:44] Not if you’ve seen what can happen. Most people of that age, most of those young campaigners as you’ve described them would not have had the life that you had, and they would not have experienced the things that you’ve experienced. They would not have stood in a church and pressed the button that sends a coffin containing the body of someone that they knew well off into the flames. These are visceral things that you have experienced. Yet you are still- they clearly made you more determined, is the point.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:36:16] Well, I think the way I put it, and I sort of alluded to this earlier, it strengthened my commitment not to be beaten. Sometimes you have to get defeated, like in an election; when you lose, that happens. But to actually be defeated in an unjust way was something that I-
Andy Coulson: [0:36:36] You just weren’t having it.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:36:37] Well you know, it wasn’t sort of a kind of big He Man thing, it was just saying, “No, you’re not going to threaten me and you’re not going to bully me. If I think this is the right thing to do, I may or may not be right, that’s for others to judge, but if I think it’s the right thing to do I’m going to stick to it.”
Andy Coulson: [0:36:55] Okay, so that’s what you’re thinking when you’re stood in your sitting room at your home holding a letter bomb that probably should have gone off but didn’t because of a technical fault.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:37:04] Yes. When it was opened on the breakfast table by my younger sister Sally amidst a pile of campaign mail, suddenly this thing appeared out of a brown envelope, a bulky brown envelope, which had wires and all sorts of electrical protuberances on it, set it balsa wood. And what did you do? Normally, because these were the kinds of letter bombs that assassinated other anti-apartheid leaders around the world-
Andy Coulson: [0:37:34] And that was happening around the world.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:37:35] It was happening around the world, and it continued for quite a while afterwards. Ruth First, who was a friend here in London and then went to work in Mozambique in Maputo, she was blown up by that kind of letter bomb in 1982. So it continued. She was killed ten years later.
But what do you do? It didn’t go off because there was a- Scotland Yard told us there was a fault in the trigger mechanism, a small wiring fault that prevented it from going off. Otherwise, they said, it would have blown the whole house up, let alone me and my parents.
What do you do with these situations? You either manage them, you try to deal with them and come through this crisis if you like, so-
Andy Coulson: [0:38:18] How quickly would you- let’s use the letter bomb as an example. How quickly did you get to that state of mind? Again, back to lessons, how did you get- do you think is it just instinct?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:38:28] My first thought was, “This is dangerous. I don’t know why it hasn’t- today this is something dangerous. This is something very unusual amidst the campaign post. I’d better get it out of the house.” So I picked it up and carried it out and stuck in on the pavement. Which, I didn’t know what else to do. And then we warned the neighbours and so on, and immediately rang the police.
But I thought, “Well, the thing to do here is to try and eliminate the threat as best you can.” If I think about it now, maybe carrying it out could have caused the fault to rectify itself. But you know, in situations like that you just act in the best way you can.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:13] 1972 you’re prosecuted for criminal conspiracy in the way that you just sort of described you were warned might happen. After the prosecution set out their case you defended yourself. Just remind me how old are you at this stage, again?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:39:27] I was twenty-two then, but I wasn’t expecting or planning to defend myself, but my defence lawyers having conducted the prosecution case, cross-examined the witnesses and did it expertly, I went to their legal chambers in the Temple, sort of august setting.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:48] Yes indeed, I’ve been there.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:39:49] You have haven’t you, yes, so you know what it feels like. And they said, “Look. The judge is going to ask us very early on in our defence case ‘What is your defence in law?’” Because I was charged with conspiring to commit nearly a thousand offences the length and breadth of the British Isles including in Ireland, which I’d never been near at that stage. “And he’s going to say, ‘What is your client’s defence in law?’ and we’re going to have to say, ‘He doesn’t have one.’” So it was resolved that the best way was for me to conduct my own defence.
Andy Coulson: [0:40:29] Your activism alongside your university studies continue, you get married, and then a truly astonishing incident. The police arrive at your door, you are arrested, it transpires shortly thereafter, for carrying out a bank theft, a bank robbery essentially. This is Kafkaesque stuff. Just explain what had happened.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:41:02] Well, when I look back on it I think to myself, “Did that really happen?” It was one of those moments.
Andy Coulson: [0:41:08] One of those moments. If you put it in a script and stuck it through- put it into a meeting at Netflix they’d laugh you out of the room.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:41:14] They would. They’d say, “This couldn’t possibly happen.”
So, the police arrived at my door, said, “We want to take you down to Wandsworth Police Station,” didn’t tell me what it was about, I kind of queried this and they said, “There’s been a bank theft.” And that’s the first I knew about anything. And I was taken down to Wandsworth Police Station and held for eleven hours.
What had happened was somebody looking like me, evidence subsequently emerged, snatched £490 worth of five pound notes from a cashier in Barclays Bank, outside which- in Upper Richmond Road, Putney, near where we were living. Outside which I had actually demonstrated because of Barclays Bank’s links to South Africa and its investments in South Africa. A campaign we subsequently won.
So the thief snatches the money, runs down Putney High Street, up a side road, turns round, throws the money back and says, “There you are then,” and escapes. There’s a fresh fingerprint on that wad of notes which wasn’t mine, because my fingerprints were taken, they still proceed to charge me. And I was put on this ID parade, which is a pretty scary experience, and picked out by the cashier who I had never seen in my life before. Whereas the bank staff who had chased the thief and seen him at close quarters said I wasn’t the thief.
So the police then have got the corroborative evidence, they ignore the fingerprint, they ignore the fact that the chasing bank staff said, “This is not the guy,” and they put me-
Andy Coulson: [0:42:49] They got some young kids who spotted you and said, “Yeah, I think it was him.”
Lord Peter Hain: [0:42:51] Some young kids too, yes. So they were kind of part of the evidence. And my saving grace on this, because it was a fairly close run thing when it went to the Old Bailey, my saving grace on this was that the elder of the three kids who had joined the chase as a bit fun told his dad, “That’s not the man. They got the wrong one.” He saw me on television. And his dad, and I’ll always be indebted to him, Terry MacLaren is a cab driver in London now, and he was fantastic. He appeared as a witness for the defence and he said it wasn’t me.
Andy Coulson: [0:43:32] Wow. Now, it turns out that this was a very elaborate attempt by the South African security services to frame you for a robbery that they staged, effectively. They had an agent who they thought looked a bit like you, they put him in the same clothes, they put him in- as I understand it, one of the things that helped enormously was that they thought that he’d kind of got his- he’d put his hair into your style and by sheer coincidence the night before you’d changed your-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:44:05] Well, I think a few days before.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:08] A few days before you’d changed your hairstyle. Other than that, they thought that they’d absolutely cracked it.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:44:11] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:13] This is, as I say Kafkaesque stuff that would drive most people, I suspect, to the brink of madness. The idea that there is this kind of operation underway that is designed only to put you in prison. How did you react when you found out that’s what this was all about?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:44:31] I thought, “Well, this is- it’s not the same as the conspiracy trial but it’s part of the battle to fight apartheid.” But what was galling about this is that people might hate me politically or disagree with me fiercely, but I don’t think anybody had thought I was ever dishonest. And it really got to me that here I was being charged with a theft. So that was-
Andy Coulson: [0:45:04] It was about your integrity.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:45:06] It was about integrity. As you know, politics, and particularly in the fight against apartheid was a matter of integrity and morality as well. Politics can become a little more grey in some areas, but…
So it kind of hurt me, but I thought you know, “We’ve got to fight this and we’ve got to win it.”
Andy Coulson: [0:45:27] Again, a moment that might have tipped you towards- fortunately it ends positively. There was a long trial, though.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:45:33] There was a two-week trial.
Andy Coulson: [0:45:34] And again, you’re sat in a court room in the Old Bailey, you know the cells are downstairs, you know where you’re heading if this goes wrong. Difficult, difficult stuff to manage.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:45:42] It was difficult, and again, like the conspiracy law, it was reformed afterwards. So partly as a result of my case and others, because- you now need corroborative evidence. If somebody points the finger at you Andy, like they pointed at me, and said, “He was the one what done it,” you’ve got to have corroborative evidence.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:05] It’s not enough.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:46:06] In this case the corroborative evidence, the forensic evidence of fingerprints was the other way.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:10] So another sliding door moment. And if you’d decided, “You know what? I’ve done my bit now. I’ve had a letter bomb, I’ve been framed for a robbery, all the experiences of my childhood, I’ve done my bit,” no one would have I think argued with you. And yet you decide, “No, we’re going to push on again.” Each one of these moments causes you to push on.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:46:38] Well otherwise you’re defeated, aren’t you? Otherwise the kind of architects of apartheid would have won.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:47] So when you’re in the midst of that, before you get the not guilty, how are you avoiding the bitterness bullet? Which is something that we discuss on this pod pretty frequently, because that is a real danger when you’re in crisis, particularly when your integrity is under attack or that your life is being unseated in they way that they were attempting to unseat you. How have you, thought your life, dodged the bitterness bullet?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:47:12] By not becoming embittered. Because I think that doesn’t get you anywhere. If you become embittered, if you become so angry that you are consumed by that anger and it turns to bitterness and could easily turn to vengeance, then it actually diminishes you as a person.
Now, it’s easy to say that because I met many other victims of mistaken identity cases at the time, and their whole lives were turned upside down. It kind of took over their lives and was all consuming, and many of them had deep, deep mental health issues as a result. I was fortunate in that I didn’t, partly because I was determined to avoid that.
But I think what you need to avoid is the consuming nature, the corrosive nature of bitterness, because what that does ultimately is it eats you up. I can’t remember the exact quote from Nelson Mandela, but he said words to this effect, that if you allow yourself to be consumed with vengeance, and bitterness as a sort of prelude to that, then you actually allow your opponents to win.
Andy Coulson: [0:48:24] All of these experiences, we’re shooting ahead here I know, lead you- or do you not see them as leading you towards a decision to become a Member of Parliament?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:48:38] I think when I got elected as an MP I had a clear mission to try and change things, that’s always been my kind of motivation, to change things as I see it for the better, and to make a difference. I don’t think there’s any point in being there unless you’re making a difference. To me, the prestige of being an MP, even a minister, a cabinet minister, was not to have the position and you know, in the case of a minister the driver and the limousine, or the car and all of that stuff. That never interested me, I never knew what an MP’s salary was when I got elected to become an MP, it was not something that- people may find that odd given all the stuff about expenses and so forth but that never motivated me.
Andy Coulson: [0:49:24] It wasn’t the interest, no.
You held some big jobs at some truly interesting times. As Northern Ireland Secretary you helped Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness form a government in 2007. You’ve said that you had to form friendships with both of those people without agreeing them and without necessarily liking them. Your proudest political moment?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:49:48] Yes. I mean, the settlement that I helped negotiate under Tony Blair and with his Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell very involved too was the thing that- in a sense a crowing moment in my world. That sounds grand and immodest, I don’t mean it in that sense, but the thing that I felt most proud about. Because that was an ‘it will never happen’ moment, you know? When you saw Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, those bitter old blood enemies together, announcing Sinn Fein and the DUP were going to form a government together, which they sustained for ten years, that was a very proud moment.
But I think that my early experiences of the anti-apartheid struggle and my background helped me, because I wasn’t seen as a traditional British patrician Secretary of State. And insights that I got, including you referred to the fact you don’t have to like people, and certainly not to agree with them. I had fundamental disagreements both with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness who shared power together in government, which I’m happy to discuss but are not the point here.
But I actually got to like both of them. And the thing you need to do in this situation is to find- you know, we’re all human beings.
Andy Coulson: [0:51:13] You’ve got to find connections.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:51:14] You’ve got to find connections. So Ian Paisley it turned out was a great family man. He had been brought up with traditional family morals as I had, and courtesies and so on in the way you go about your life. Martin McGuinness most improbably, and people probably don’t know this, I discovered was a mad keen fan of England’s cricket team.
Andy Coulson: [0:51:39] Right.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:51:41] So it was the era when I first became Secretary of State and I was seeing him a lot in my office at Stormont Castle, the Ashes series were on in 2005 that England actually won.
Andy Coulson: [0:51:52] And he was a passionate English fan, England fan.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:51:54] He knew every player, he had an opinion on every player. Simon Jones the Welsh medium bowler, fast bowler, invented reverse swing, which for cricket afficionados was quite novel. He knew all about that. He had a disagreement with some of the team selections.
I mean, so what you do in those situations, you find points of human contact and you build trust. And trust doesn’t mean to say, “I agree with you, or they agree with me,” it’s about-
Andy Coulson: [0:52:27] How much of your back story was of use? What was their reaction to your back story? Was that discussed when you were finding those moments of connection?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:52:34] Yes. I mean, in the case of Sinn Fein they had had a relationship with the African National Congress, so that was a kind of common ground. There wasn’t a lot of other common ground, particularly you know, their terrorist hinterland.
Ian Paisley was to the right, significantly to the right of where I was or am, and he was intensely religious and I’m an agnostic. But for example-
Andy Coulson: [0:53:06] But they knew they were dealing with a man of principle.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:53:09] I suppose so.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:09] And they knew that they were dealing with a man who had kind of put himself on the line. Obviously a tremendous amount of nuances and differences and difficulty in and around that, but when they were- when you were sat at the table they knew they were dealing with someone of conviction.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:53:26] Well, I hope so. But I also think they knew they were dealing with somebody who is pretty straight. So if I told them something I was not telling them something to manoeuvre around or be disingenuous.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:42] We’re racing through your political career, for which apologies. But let’s move to 2008. You’re caught up in an issue around undeclared political donations linked to your standing for the Deputy Leadership of the party. There’s a long police investigation which eventually ends without charge, but you resign from government. How difficult was that period, Peter?
And I suppose the question is, given everything that we’ve heard, the story that we’ve heard, did it cause you to kind of- did any of that kind of come back at you emotionally? There you are again in a very serious situation, a proper threat of criminal prosecution. How did you sort of react to all of that, I suppose is the question?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:54:26] Well it was pretty horrible. But remember, not a penny was stolen by my Deputy Leader campaign. I didn’t pocket any money from it. It was that we declared about-
Andy Coulson: [0:54:35] It was about disclosure.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:54:37] It was about the regulation that you needed to report a donation you’d received within thirty days. And about £100,000 of donations had been reported as I had instructed, but for reasons which I’ve never got to the bottom of, my campaign hadn’t reported the rest. And there were lots of other people in this situation but for some reason the electoral commission picked on me I think to make an example.
And without making a Party point, people don’t tend to resign in recent times, or haven’t tended to resign. You know, when I think what that was about, about not declaring all the donations, only some within the thirty-day timescale, because as soon as I knew I tried to find what had gone wrong and then we reported them. But it took a bit of time. You know, people have done, in my view, immeasurably worse things and not resigned.
But I stood down and I did come back a year later, which I was- I felt exonerated by and vindicated by, to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Wales. But it was a pretty unpleasant time, really unpleasant, because I suddenly thought, you know, after all this, after all we’ve been through, including negotiating the Northern Ireland settlement only the year before suddenly to be engulfed by-
Andy Coulson: [0:56:00] So how did you manage that, in practical terms? By burying yourself in the detail of it?
Lord Peter Hain: [0:56:09] Well, there was- you needed to do that, but no, to try and escape some of that. I mean, we took more holidays that year, Elizabeth my wife and I, then ever before. Just thought, “Sod it.” Forgive me for that expression.
Andy Coulson: [0:56:22] Don’t worry, we’ve had a lot worse on this pod.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:56:25] Right. So we took more holidays, we went for a six-week holiday to Spain which we’d never done before, and just thought, “We’ve got to get on with our lives.”
Andy Coulson: [0:56:33] And you’d advocate that kind of approach? If you can, remove yourself.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:56:38] If you can, you’ve got to- you must never neglect the solution to the problem, but try to kind of- to take yourself out of it in a way. But at the same time this in the end is about your resilience as a personality.
Andy Coulson: [0:56:56] Do you think that- the story that we’ve heard during the course of this podcast, do you think that in each of those big moments of crisis do you hold to the idea that resilience is kind of like a muscle as well, that it’s got to be- the more exercised it becomes-
Lord Peter Hain: [0:57:10] If you can, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:13] The kind of more resilient you can- so you know, lean into stress, I suppose. Noone wants to experience some of the things that you’ve experienced, but the tendency these days and the fashion these days is to kind of move away from stress, to try and avoid it. Whereas you, in each of these sliding door moments, have- that’s really what I’m getting at about the approach that you seem to have taken is, “No, I can deal with this. And I’m going to deal with this, and I’m going to lean into it.”
Lord Peter Hain: [0:57:43] Or I’ve got to try and deal with it as best I could, you know? And remember, in this situation apart from constructing a defence case as it were with lawyers I had to engage, and making sure that the truth from my point of view was fairly before the prosecutor looking at whether to charge me or not.
And it took nearly a year to go through this, that was one of the most stressful- you had this thing hanging over you the whole time.
But in the end Andy it was for me, I thought, “This is something really bad that’s happened to me. Ultimately it could have been my fault because I hadn’t managed the Deputy Leader campaign with the forensic attention that I maybe should have, but I was also Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and so on. And the campaign had actually started when I was still Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
So if think back on it, there were things I should have- mistakes that were made that I should have had that extra kind of bandwidth,
Andy Coulson: [0:58:46] But at the core of it you felt this was unfair.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:58:49] I felt it was deeply unfair. I felt I was being victimised. All sorts of leading politicians were “breaking the law” quote unquote, in terms of contravening the regulations about reporting donations, including George Osborne the Shadow Chancellor at the time, who admitted it. But I was the only one as it were facing the dock and the termination of my career. I thought it was deeply unfair.
Andy Coulson: [0:59:16] But you still managed to dodge the bitterness bullet.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:59:18] Yes, and-
Andy Coulson: [0:59:19] There must have been moments where you were- that was a close run thing.
Lord Peter Hain: [0:59:23] I think the only thing, if I think back on it, it did take a bit of the zest for high politics out of me. And I thought you know, if this is what you have to go through, is this worth it? But I was pleased to come back and to try and win the election campaign in 2010, and it seemed at the time in the cabinet, apart from me and Peter Mandelson, I don’t want to be immodest, it seemed to me the only ones who were really, really fighting to win that 2010 campaign. But that’s another story.
Andy Coulson: [0:59:53] So the fashion Peter, as we- and thank you for this conversation, but as we come to a close, the fashion of course at the moment is for political comebacks. My old boss back in the Foreign Office.
Lord Peter Hain: [1:00:07] Well you’ve been cheeky enough in this interview Andy. I don’t see that happening.
Andy Coulson: [1:00:12] So come on, if you get the call?
Lord Peter Hain: [1:00:14] I don’t see that happening.
Andy Coulson: [1:00:15] Something more informal? How are you seeing it? Are you feeling pretty confident about Labour’s chances at the election?
Lord Peter Hain: [1:00:23] I think the country has given up on this Tory government, and I notice a lot of people who voted Conservative are just absolutely fed up and there’s lots of reasons, without getting very political, for them to be so. So I think they want a change. The degree to which they have confidence in us as a Labour government waiting in the wings to be what they actually put their cross against in the ballot box, I don’t think that’s finally decided.
So if you’re asking me now, I think the Conservatives will be defeated. I think that we will probably form a government.
Andy Coulson: [1:01:03] I joke about comebacks, but there is also- and I feel very strongly about this, we’ve touched on this with some other guests previously. What we need in politics is people with experience, people who have lived a life. As has been well demonstrated during the course of this conversation, you have lived a life. An extraordinary life. Your experience is deep and rich and therefore useful.
So if you do get a call- actually I’m not even going to ask you what would you do if you get the call. It’s people with that kind of experience, is my point, who absolutely should be getting a call, whatever the role is, however formal or informal .
Lord Peter Hain: [1:01:37] I think that’s fair, you know, whether it’s some sort of envoy role or whatever. If there’s a job to be done and somebody asks me to do it, then I’d want to look at it very carefully. Because I still have a desire, as in my House of Lord’s work where I’ve done a number of things focusing on particular areas to change things for the better.
But am I looking to become a minister? No. And I’ve made that clear to our excellent Labour leader of the Lord’s in Angela Smith. I said no I didn’t want to come on the front bench. I’d done twelve years as a minister, I’d done two years as a front bencher before ’97 and two years afterwards and it’s been a privilege to do it, but I want to do other things.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:24] Peter, thank you for your time.
Lord Peter Hain: [1:02:26] It’s a pleasure.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:27] Thank you for telling us your story in such an amazing fashion. I used the word ‘remarkable’ right at the start, I think it is entirely appropriate. And thank you for your wisdom. A fascinating conversation and one I think that does provide some really useful, actually, guidance and advice for people who are facing their own difficulties. So thank you for that.
Lord Peter Hain: [1:02:48] It’s a pleasure, and a privilege to do it.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:51] If you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Peter, please do give us a rating and a review, it really helps. Peter’s book is out, The Elephant Conspiracy, you can find the link in the episode notes. And if you hit subscribe wherever you download your podcasts from you will find loads more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode on our website, crisiswhatcrisis.com
Thanks again for joining us.
End of Recording [0:04:43]