Has Hain’s activist past helped save his job?

LAST UPDATED AT 00:00 ON Mon 14 Jan 2008

The survival to date of Peter Hain, the perma-tanned Work and Pensions Secretary who has been caught in a row about undeclared donations of more than £100,000, has puzzled many observers. The MP for Neath is seen by many as a figure of fun, and his low placing in last year's election for Labour’s deputy leader - he came fifth out of six candidates - suggests he isn't that popular with his party peers. So why has Gordon Brown come out so forcefully today to defend his embattled colleague, telling the Sun newspaper that Hain is a "great minister"?
 
The reason lies in Hain’s extraordinary past. For a period during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hain was one of the leading lights of the anti-apartheid campaign in the UK and was a regular figure on the front pages and TV news. Hain and his family had fled to England from South Africa, where they had been activists fighting the racist regime there.
 
While studying at Imperial College, London, Hain became chairman of the Stop the Seventy Campaign, a body which disrupted cricket and rugby tours in the UK by South African teams. His activities brought him to the attention of BOSS, the notorious South African security services, and Hain was first targeted by a letter bomb in 1972 before being framed for a 1974 bank robbery. He was acquitted in 1976 of the latter and many believe that BOSS had used a lookalike of Hain to pull off the job.
 
A Labour party insider told The First Post: “It’s true that a lot of people in the party find his ambition a bit hard to swallow - but far more people still have a lot of respect for Hain’s campaigning against apartheid when he was a young man, Gordon Brown among them.” The idea of a senior politician being saved by the indiscretions of his youth is at least refreshing. · 

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