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Save the Hain

Look, I think the press and opposition parties need to take a long hard look at themselves over the way thay have harried and harrassed Labour ministers over their campaign donations. Harriet Harman, Wendy Alexander and now poor Peter Hain. You can’t expect a busy politicians to bother about every last hundred grand, or understand their own election laws.

As a left-winger, I’m sure Peter would have been the very first to insist that everyone was told that he was raising funds from diamond dealers and businessmen who’ve been investigated for price fixing of NHS drugs. But he just didn’t know. Or if he did he was too busy and forgot. And anyway was on holiday at the time. Surely it just shows that the author of the seminal “Ayes to the Left” is no blinkered ideologue and can win the support of wealth creators and captains of commerce.

As for the speculation about Mr Hain’s Progressive Policy Forum, which doesn’t have a website or any publications and whose registered address is a solicitor’s office in London. Well, what’s wrong with that? Think tanks perform many important functions. This one was thinking about how to raise lots of money for Mr Hain without naming anyone. And about how businesssmen could donate money to politicians without every Tom, Dick or Harry knowing about it.

Just because there was an unintentional and wholly honest administrative oversight this able minister has been dragged through the mire. It is said that he has broken the law by failing to register over a hundred thousand pounds in donations, and perhaps he has. But as his colleague Martin Linton put it on BBC Radio yesterday, it’s not the law that matters but how you break it. And we all know that unlike the rest of us, when politicians break the law there is generally a very good reason. Such as a gross negligence.

Ignorance may be no excuse if you fail to tell the Inland Revenue about a hundred thousand pounds – but politicians are not like you and me. The media storm over donations is really an aspect of the politics of envy. As are the snide comment about the former Prime Minister Tony Blair,for accepting a modest honorarium of £500,000 a year from JP Morgan investment bank for providing door-opening services. The moaning minnnies cry “moral hazard” and say it’s wrong for senior politicians to be hawking themselves around the City of London. That their future financial prospects might come to influence their decisions while in office.

But surely, it is better for them to take their remuneration after they have left office rather than before. That way they avoid the honest mistakes made by Peter Hain. You can’t expect our politicians to work for ordinary salaries and manage their accounts as if they were ordinary people. Politicians are special, and they need special treatment. They make the laws, after all, and so surely they have the right to break them.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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