I have written before of the nationalisation of politics in Great Britain. In short, I think Peter Oborne’s thesis in the the Political Class is almost right, but back to front. We are much closer to the authoritarian “no-party state” advocated by Brian Crozier, realised, however by Djilas’ New Class sucking up consumerism and the New Left rather than through caudillo-corporatism. But I did not realise it had gone so far: how much the constitution has changed in that particular respect the last decade; how much in public discourse the government and the governing party are now identified.
Peter Hain MP is in trouble. His inexplicably luxuriantly financed campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, turns out not to have counted over £100,000 in donations. It is all over the newspaper and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and the Electoral Commission are both investigating. I’m sorry? Apparently the failure to account is a criminal offence. It what?
Now maybe it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke, Mr Hain (an African by birth) having moved from being the leader of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign in the UK in his twenties to one of the leading advocates of a new pass-law system for his adopted country. But I am outraged on his behalf in this case.
Someone has to be. All Mr Hain has done is to say he was too busy to notice the alleged offences being carried out in his name, not challenge, as the younger man would have done, the ludicrousness of the context. All the media has done is have vapours about the wickedness of using money to send leaflets and not reporting it to officials, and ridicule the poor man’s “orange” complexion in a way they would think disgusting and itself borderline criminal if he were an ethnically darker African.
Maybe I have not been paying enough attention, but I have not read anywhere yet the obvious point. … This was a Labour Party election. It should be a private matter for that organisation. If Mr Hain has broken his own party’s rules then let his own party penalise him in accordance with those rules. It is no business of parliament. It is no business of the official parliament has crazily set over its members’ conduct as parliamentarians. It is no business of the Electoral Commission, whose only plausible excuse for existing is to oversee elections to public office.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is an office without significant power and responsibility even in the Labour Party; it has no legislative or executive or judicial function in any other British institution. If members of the Labour Party want to decide their leadership by lot, by bribery, or by a contest to see who can piss into Kier Hardy’s cap from the greatest distance, then it is nobody else’s business. Whether the Labour Party is in government—it is, Rip van Winkel& #0151how it gets there, and what it does there, are matters of public importance for public debate and ought to be governed by constitutional law. How the Labour Party is organised might be interesting (though it isn’t), might be contingently important to the conduct of a Labour Government (though as far as I can see it isn’t), but the Labour Party is a voluntary organisation. Until joining the Labour Party is compulsory, or Labour connections give preferential treatment in life outside politics (and that it is not itself regarded as improper), then non-members have no legitimate say in the affairs of the Labour Party.
Mr Hain appears to me to have been an effective and loyal member of a consistently vile administration. It is for that he should be condemned, particularly when his antecedents would lead one to expect at least some civil libertarian principle. We have every right to despise and vilify him on those grounds. (But no state official has.) If the voters of Neath think Mr Hain’s conduct or character makes him an inadequate representative, then they are sovreign at the ballot-box to remove him, if necessary with a dead dog wearing a red rosette. Welsh voters and local parties aren’t passive clients of the party, even though it often treats them like that. Until he commits a real crime, or those voters chuck him out, though, Mr Hain gets my reluctant support in keeping his seat and his office.
He is no more morally guilty than when he was tried for armed robbery. It is vexatiously mistaken identity, with the power of the state prayed in aid of someone-else’s fight. The aye-witless demand for security provided by the state even against a the rough and tumble of a private game is the agent provocateur this time, not an eye-witness procured by a foreign Bureau of State Security.