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Pointing the finger

Betsan Powys | 11:36 UK time, Thursday, 22 January 2009

On Monday, with an apology in the House of Commons, Peter Hain will hope a chapter that started with "an act of omission which I fully accept was wrong" comes to an end. If it does, it comes to an end with a mauling.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee has found him guilty of "serious and substantial failures" in not registering donations of £103,000 to his Labour deputy leadership bid.

Its members point to the scale of that "act of omission" and conclude it caused "justified public concern".

They accept Mr Hain's evidence of his intensive workload, one part of which was, in the Neath MP's own words, "the complex politics (which I had to help manage) of achieving a coalition government with our Party's traditional opponents, Plaid Cymru".

Then they point to the rules and are clear that workload, no matter how tough, is never an excuse for breaking them.

But they're equally clear that "there was no intention to deceive". For that reason and because Mr Hain has already left the cabinet, they are content with an apology. Or to put it another way, had Mr Hain not lost his position in cabinet, they would have been tougher. This is not a report that lets Mr Hain off the hook. It reads like one that makes his return to Cabinet look less likely than he may have been hoping, than his admirers think is fair.

Then read Mr Hain's version of events and you'll see that he too is pointing the finger very, very clearly. His campaign team, his supporters have been doing it for quite some time but now the man himself is pulling no punches.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner, written late last year, Mr Hain says this:

"Mr Phillip Taylor was initially designated "Campaign Director" during preparations for the campaign but was succeeded by Mr Steve Morgan who replaced him as a signatory to the bank account with effect from 7 April 2007. (Mr Taylor left the campaign at this time due to a personality clash with Mr Morgan.) As signatories to the Account with overall responsiblity for campaign finance and organisation, the successive Campaign Directors undertook the responsibility for receiving donations, banking these and arranging for reporting them [...] I have never been given any explanation as to why the procedure in the campaign which had been previously well established and followed to the letter for five months completely broke down from late May 2007".

And again:

"I have identified, with the benefit of hindsight, two particular factors which I believe were significant in Hain4Labour's administration proving to be unable to ensure timely reports after late May 2007. The first was the unexpected and abrupt departure of Mr. Taylor. I now believe the resulting disruption was significant ... "

In other words Mr Hain is pointing the finger at lobbyist Steve Morgan. He's saying disaster happened not only happened on Mr Morgan's watch; it happened because Mr Morgan was put on the watch at all.

In Mr Hain's version then, where there was order, Steve Morgan brought chaos and not, as Mr Morgan eloquently insisted at the time - and has continued to insist - the other way around.

And after Monday's apology?

Despite suggestions that Downing Street has continued to pick up the phone regularly to their man in Neath, there is no Cabinet reshuffle in sight and the severe criticism in this report will not go away.

So what, goes one suggestion, about a position for Mr Hain - a former Minister for Africa -as a special envoy on behalf of the government? A sign that his experience is valued, that he's back in the fold, if not in government?


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