Thursday, 31 May 2012

What is the point of the Royal family?

The Diamond Jubilee fest is about to begin.

It is no doubt a remarkable achievement to have served for 60 years as the monarch in a very changing British society.

At the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1952, Britain was a very different place. Just seven years after the end of the Second World War, it was a period of major change with reforms like the NHS and welfare state coming to fruition.

Television was in its infancy in the early 1950s, the internet unheard of. Much has changed over the years, though the monarchy has endured.

There have been rocky times, particularly around the time of the death of Princess Diana.

The Queen and the Royal Family were widely perceived as aloof and detached from the people, their attitude - often seen as hostile to the princess when alive - seemed to continue with her death.

At one point in the lead up to the Princess’s funeral there seemed to be a real turn of hostility toward the Royals but with some spin advice from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, things turned around.

Since those days the monarchy has improved its public relations game and regained popularity.

The question though remains what is the point of the Royal Family? It is an institution that stretches back centuries. Indeed, it is this ancestry that has made it such a major landowner in Britain.

In their book, Who Owns the World, authors Kevin Cahill and Rob McMahon identify the Queen as the biggest landowner in the world. They argue that the Queen’s land ownership extends to entire countries and encompasses one seventh of the globe.

Messrs Cahill and McMahon argue that it is the domination of a small number of monarchs and other landowners that is a prime cause of poverty worldwide. They suggest a redistribution of land would help reduce the gap between rich and poor and address poverty.

It would though come as a surprise if at this time any development agency started calling for the abolition of the monarchy and redistribution of its lands on the basis of the need to address poverty around the world.

Historically, the source of the monarch’s wealth seems to have been simply that they were the biggest bullies on the block. They had the biggest gang, so got others to be subservient to their rule. A certain aurore was created around the idea of the monarch being in some way God’s representative on earth.

The monarchy later became constitutional, whereby the Queen remains the head of state but the powers to govern as such are exercised by elected ministers.

Whilst at face value it has little real power, the monarch does still sit at the head of the British establishment. She heads a class system that sees the most powerful positions in society still taken by those from a privileged background comprising the public schools and Oxbridge. She is also head of the armed forces.

The intransigent ways of monarchy have been on display with the retaining of the likes of the Act of Succession going back 300 years, that stops those marrying a Catholic from succeeding to the throne. Open discrimination, yet only recently has any government moved to change this state of affairs.

In a strange way the Royals have managed to adapt the consumer/celebrity culture for their own purposes. There is far less objection to the monarchy today than there was back at the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1977, when the band the Sex Pistols sang God Save the Queen and her fascist regime. Approval ratings according to recent Mori polls, are at around 80%.

No doubt the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June will once again show much of the great British public at its most supine. Some of the celebration will no doubt border on the idolatrous. The Queen though does deserve some respect for what she has done over the years in keeping the ship of state steady but above all preserving the succession of her own lineage.

Things though could change significantly if a less competent successor came along, then no doubt Parliament would act to curb the power of monarchy and maybe even create a Republic.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Faith needs greater voice in mainstream broadcasting

The recent address from the BBCs head of religion Aaquil Ahmed raised a number of important issues, not the least of which being the tenuous position of religion in the schedules.
Ahmed illustrated this point with reference to his own departure, three years ago, from Channel 4. He was not replaced and within 12 months religious broadcasting had gone from 50 hours to zero.

Thankfully, the BBC continues to see the value of religious broadcasting, with 600 hours of radio and 173 hours of television broadcast in the last year.

Ahmed though stressed the importance of continuing to get big audiences in order to retain the religious broadcasting space. This pressure is likely to increase with 20 per cent cuts coming across the Corporation over the coming years.

The contribution that the BBC makes to religious broadcasting became apparent to me recently when taking on the role of chair of the judges for the broadcast section of the Sandford St Martin awards. The quality and depth of the programmes was most impressive.

The ten short listed programmes included Rageh Omaar presenting The Life of Mohammed, Melvyn Bragg’s The King James’s Bible – the book that changed the world and Ian Hislop: when bankers were good.

The significance of many of these programmes was that they went deeper, linking faith values to contemporary life. The economic crisis, Islam and the shaping effect of the King James Bible on the world today. This resonates with what Ahmed said about how research had showed him that “people wanted to know more about the basics of religion, they wanted to know less about the conflict,” post 9/11, “and more about its roots in history and theology.”

It is ironic that the advent of 9/11 had a positive impact in the area of religious broadcasting. It raised the news value of the subject, so there was a greater appetite among some media organisations for output.

What is needed though is for faith to be got out of the box titled religion. There is no doubt pressure on those working in religious broadcasting from more secular parts of the media outlets to conform to stereotypes and stay in the box. Roll out the Catholic or Anglican prelates on gay marriage or abortion, the Imaam on terrorism, but never peace, economic injustice or the environment. Keep the social justice work that so many faiths do firmly in that box marked secret.
There is a lesson in the fact that there has been a boost in religious coverage over the past decade due partly to the dominance of 9/11 related factors on the news agenda. The lesson is that religion needs to be examined in a far wider mainstream context.

The recent episode involving the Occupy movement camping outside St Pauls illustrates the point. Although, the Church came via a tortuous route, including a certain amount of public humiliation, once it got the social justice message it came to the forefront of this debate about economic injustice. An issue of direct concern to everyone.

Extending this argument over the relationship between religious and current affairs broadcasting, why do we not see faith leaders on programmes like Question Time or Any Questions? Why not a faith voice on economic justice issues are discussed on Newsnight or Channel 4 News? More visibility from faith leaders, being questioned would add to the richness of the dialogue and also lead to a questioning of faith.

Faith after all is the basis of much of our civilisation today, yet it is an incredibly misunderstood subject. Give great credit to the BBC for its continued effort to look for different ways to broaden the understanding of world religions. Religious broadcasting is not all about Songs of Praise, though that programme obviously has a role to play. But there does need to be more broadening of the canvas when it comes to religion in broadcasting, further continuing to probe for answers to the many challenges facing the world today. Some may warn of the danger of a dilution but I would prefer to argue that a bigger say in the mainstream can only increase the impact and contribution that faith has to offer to a troubled world. It might help the ratings too

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Let religion out of the box

Paul Donovan's speech: from Sandford St Martin Awards 2012 Awards at Lambeth Palace.

The quality of the programmes put forward for the Sandford St Martin Awards this year shows that there’s no shortage of interest in religious programming. Viewing this year’s entries was an enjoyable task. And I’d like to thank my fellow judges – Cresta Norris, David Prest and Debbie Thrower for their insights and wisdom.

All of us as judges were struck by the depth and variety of those that made it onto the final shortlist of 10. The vast majority of programmes on the shortlist though, come from the BBC - and the corporation deserve due credit for continuing to produce such breadth in its coverage of faith matters. However, the lack of any significant religious output from ITV, Channel 5 and Sky is a matter for continuing regret.

All broadcasters though need to review the way in which they cover faith. There is a tendency to compartmentalise faith in a box called exotic, weird or “must do a bit” of. Yet, surveys say that at least 70% of the population have some sort of faith belief. What many of the shortlisted programmes show this year is how much the moral grounding of our society today is based on the different world-faiths.

My call on broadcasters over the coming year would be to get faith out of the box called “religion”. Faith has real relevance for life today and as such should be reflected across the broadcast spectrum. It must be mainstream.

Remember how one of the most visible challenges to the new religion of this age, known as ‘consumer-based market capitalism’, came with the arrival of the Occupy movement outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This kick-started the public debate that has since taken on bonuses, high pay and so on.

No doubt the various U-turns from the Church helped (as we say) – “give the story legs”. Those of us from the Catholic tradition had dreams that the protesters might up tents and move up the road to Westminster Cathedral plaza - but it was sadly not to be.

In the end though, the St Paul’s action brought forward a real questioning response from the Church to the destructive and unjust economic system that continues to dominate millions of lives today. The Church was once again centre-stage, relevant - 0and with a voice on an issue (economic justice) that really matters.

Broadcasters must think again - from the BBC with its excellent contribution to those that simply do not bother at all with religion. In the case of the BBC, why not broaden the faith dimension into the current affairs coverage. So say with some of the public debate programmes like Question Time and Any Questions, why not give faith a hearing. Faith leaders do represent people and important traditions, something that - dare I suggest the rota of “professional” comedians and journalists wheeled out weekly - don’t.

It would also be nice to hear a faith view on economic, environmental or peace discussions sometimes on programmes like Newsnight and Channel 4 News, rather than keep the faith people in those boxes marked “Gays”, “Abortion”, “Paedophiles” and “Assisted Dying”.

As the programmes on the shortlist tonight well illustrate, the area of faith has so much more to offer than simply being consigned to the box marked “Religion”.

Let’s open that box and let some light out into the rest of the TV lexicon!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tackling climate change must mean renationalising water utilities

Drought has become a popular subject of debate recently, especially since a number of water companies imposed hose pipe bans.
Typically, almost since the day that the bans came into place it seems to have been constantly raining. This has caused some confusion, resulting in environmental experts rushing to assure us all that the underground aquifers remain low and much of the rain is not being absorbed but going straight into the rivers and out to sea.
There have though been some interesting investigations looking at the reasons for the shortage of water, including three relatively dry winters. The fact that is never discussed though is the role of privatisation in the water shortages of the UK.
The stats make for stark reading. In the UK, where the public utility of water supply was privatised in 1989, some 25 per cent (3.4 billion litres a day) of water is lost through leaks. In Germany, where the water utilities remain under the public control of the municipalities, less than 10 per cent is lost. In Germany, the market liberalising tenets handed down by the European Union were rejected by the municipalities.
A look at one large water company, Thames, offers a glimpse of how the industry works. It was taken over in 2001 by the Germany Company RWE at a cost of £4.3 billion. Five years later it was bought by Kemble Water Ltd for £4.8 billion. Kemble is a consortium led by an investment fund run by the Australian Macquarie bank. Last December, the Abu Dhabi Investment company bought 9.9 per cent of Kemble and in January China Investment Corporation bought 8.68 per cent.
Now, despite all the vacuous comments of politicians about such investments being good for Britain, the reality is that these big players no doubt bought not for the common good of the British waterways but for an excellent dividend return on their investments.
A look at the company’s record on leakage since privatisation is also revealing. In 2006, Thames Water was leaking 900 mega litres per day. It missed its leaks target under the regulatory framework for the third year in a row and was fined. At the same time, the company declared a 31 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £346.5 million.
Then, instead of a fine, the company were required to spend £150 million on repairs. This resulted in a reduction in leaks by 120 mega litres a day. Leakage fell to 668.9 mega litres per day in 2009/10 and has stayed at that level since.
More widely, the Guardian newspaper recently reported that despite the drought 11 of the 21 water companies will not be required to reduce their leakages by a single drop up to 2015. Leaks have been reduced by just 5 per cent since privatisation in 1989.
The average customer bill for water has risen by £64 since 2001 and is now £376, while the companies have collectively made a £2 billion in pre-tax profits and paid £1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders in 2010-11.
What these figures show is that privatisation is a real block in the way of dealing with drought and the wider challenges of climate change in the long term. The first priority is always the shareholder dividend. As long as hundreds of millions of pounds are being taken out in profit from the water industry then this is money not being spent on leaks and improving the network. The superior record of countries like Germany, which has not been silly enough to privatise public utilities like water, proves the point.
Until the common good is put at the centre of public policy in areas like water supply then the majority will continue to suffer and pay for the benefit of the few. It is a scandal that privatisation has now so become part of the public service landscape in this country that when subjects like the water supply are looked at it does not seem to even come up for discussion as a significant factor in the situation. It is as though the nonsense about private good/ public bad has so passed into the public psyche that it has now taken on the mantle of an unquestionable truth. This is simply not the case. Looking to the future if the challenges that climate change are going to increasingly present are to be met then public ownership of the utilities will have to be restored.

Monday, 14 May 2012

How the FA lowered our expectations of England

The announcement that the new manager of the England football team was Roy Hodgson drew surprise in some quarters. The heavily backed favourite Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Redknapp had not even been interviewed.

The decision seemed to resemble the furore that surrounded Brian Clough back in the 1970s and 80s when it seemed everyone in the country thought he should get the job, except the FA.

The Hodgson appointment thought could prove a success. He is an intelligent man with a proven track record. The appointment also may lower expectations amongst the general populace as to what should be expected from the England team. For once going into a major championships, anything the team manages to achieve is likely to be seen as a bonus.

Hodgson though has quite a job on. The England football manager’s job is highly sort after but a pretty thankless task. The role is made nigh on impossible by the football authorities and the way the game operates in England these days.

One big problem is the development of English players qualified to play for the national team. Given that so many Premiership teams are made up of foreign players the chances of a youngster coming through now at the highest level are at a premium.

Going back a few years a young player coming in could be introduced over a few seasons, before finally nailing down a regular position in a Premier league side. Now, a young player may have a season or a bit more to get into the side and nail down a place. The window has got much smaller, with the competition particularly from the foreign imports fierce.

Then there are those that make it at a lower level, only to be picked up by one of the big four teams and dumped into the reserves for a few years. These players are not able to develop as they should with regular first team football. There have been several examples over recent seasons of this practice. The most recent probably being Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. An outstanding prospect for Southampton, last summer he moved to Arsenal.

Yes, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is an outstanding coach with a record second to none at bringing on young players. But what Oxlade Chamberlain needed on leaving Southampton was regular football at Premiership level. Instead, he has made occasional appearances for the Arsenal team, mostly warming the substitutes bench for the season. Had he gone to a lesser team like Aston Villa, Stoke or Wigan the development that would have helped the player and ultimately England would have been assured. His wage packet though would have been less.

A good example of how such young talent can be wasted is Shaun Wright Phillips. A truly exciting talent when he first burst on the scene a few years ago. He was unstoppable in the early days when Manchester City were a Championship team. Chelsea were the biggest club on the block in those days. Jose Mourinho snapped up Wright Phillips in, putting him on a big wage and into the reserves.

For a number of seasons Wright Phillips dwindled in the reserves, losing confidence and becoming a shadow of his former self. He should have been a regular for his clubs side and England. Wright Phillips eventually left Chelsea, returning to Manchester City before going to QPR.

A contrast to the path taken by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wright Philipps is that of Victor Moses. An exciting talent at Crystal Palace, he eventually moved to Wigan for whom he has been outstanding for the past two seasons, playing regularly and inspiring the team. This regular football has helped the player develop. Now ofcourse the big clubs have come calling, so who knows where he goes next?

So Hodgson will have to deal with a situation where he has just not got the English talent available to put in his side that past England managers have had. Indeed, the manager of the England team is now beginning to know what it must be like to manage the Scottish, Welsh or Irish football teams.

Hodgson is not helped either with the fixture arrangements. Over recent years the fixture list has made no sense for the England manager or Premiership clubs. The new season starts in August and within a couple of weeks there is often a meaningless international friendly that fouls up the Premiership clubs just as the season is beginning to get going.

Then there is the stop, start approach to the season in the early months as every few weeks there is a blank Saturday to allow the international managers the time to prepare properly with the players. This time is something sort by international managers for years and which has no doubt helped them.

But then this year the Premiership season drags on into middle May leaving Hodgson less than a month to prepare his players for the European Championships – where is the sense in this?

What those who run English football need to decide is are they serious about the England football team. If they are then something needs to be done about the development of English players and the fixture mess.

England need to look at what Spain and Germany have done over recent years to change the set up of football in those countries. The results have been obvious to behold.

Alternatively, maybe England should simply withdraw from international football altogether. Accept that it is club football that counts and it is the clubs that hold all the power. This option though seems unlikely to be pursued on commercial if no other basis.

The approach at the moment is a half-way house, trying to keep an international team going whilst not upsetting the clubs. The neo-liberal approach to the football market makes developing young English football talent ever more difficult. A bit of protectionism maybe is needed if the English football team is ever to succeed.

The half way house approach ofcourse maybe the only way to proceed, keeping a presence at international level while prioritising club football. This is ok, just so long as every time an international tournament comes up England don’t expect to win it.

If the half way house approach is to work then there needs to be a lowering of expectations and maybe that is why Roy Hodgson, rather than Harry Redknapp got the England job.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Is Vatican III the answer?

The Cardinal Sean Brady case shows only root and branch reform can deal with the issue of abuse in the Catholic Church

How much has the Catholic Church really changed in addressing questions such as child abuse?

Not very much, if the recent BBC programme The Shame of the Catholic Church implicating Cardinal Sean Brady is to be believed.

The question that such programmes constantly bring up is whether on the abuse question the Church has not just conducted a damage limitation exercise, taken some public relations advice, but in reality continues pretty much as before.

Guidelines have been brought in and child protection has rightly been given a higher priority, however as this BBC programme showed there is still much atoning to be done for what happened in the past.

The role of Cardinal Brady also raises the questions as to how much those now in the top positions of authority in the Catholic Church knew about what was going on over the dark decades of child abuse. These people were clearly considered to have performed well in order that they were subsequently rewarded with high office. A safe pair of hands.

It might prove helpful to compare the Church with another institution like the police. A number of those who were middle ranking officers at the time of the miscarriages of justice like the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four later advanced on to become senior officers in the service. While none were found to have done anything wrong, would they have advanced so far if they had stepped out and denounced the wrong doing at the time? To do so would no doubt have invited a quick exit.

The Church has been badly hit by the abuse crisis. It has turned many, particularly in Ireland, away. Fulsome efforts have been made by some, to deal with what has gone on in the past but there is a growing insularity about the Church today.

Instead of looking out and opening the windows in the way that Pope John XXIII called for at the time of Vatican II in the 1960s there is a closing in. Vatican II was all about opening the Church up, making it more accountable in a changing world. It was to be of the world, seeking to bring gospel values to bear on daily life. Accountability, subsidiarity and democracy were to be watchwords.

There have been unscrupulous efforts from some in the institution of the Church to indicate that abuse was in some way linked to the Vatican II process. This group seek to turn things back to pre-Vatican II days where clericalism was rife, the priest apart all powerful, the laity simply there to obey. The good old days, when everyone knew their place.

The problem is that it was this very unaccountable clericalism that brought about the child abuse scandals in the first place. The lack of accountability of the position of priest, presented an opportunity to abuse. The deference, Father knows best etc. Much of this still exists, though less so in Ireland where the abuse scandal has so rocked the nation.

The way in which a young priest coming into a parish suddenly becomes every mother’s adopted son shows a touching human warmth but also an unwarranted respect.

There have certainly been moves made to address abuse in the Catholic Church across the world. In Britain guidelines are in place and a well resourced regulation system exists. The hierarchy from President of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols down have committed to deal with the issue of child abuse. There was a fulsome apology made last year for child abuse. However, without accompanying actions apologies are just hot air.
There needs to be a root and branch process undertaken, perhaps a Vatican III. This should include a truth commission type process looking at abuse across the church, listening to, understanding and compensating the victims.

After what has gone on across the Church, there needs to be substantial change in the institution itself. This would mean once again opening the windows and letting in the light. The structure of the hierarchy much change significantly, bringing in accountability and democracy.

Fundamental to all of this has to be the role of the priest. This position must change to a position of one among equals, accountable first and foremost to the local people in the parish. Too many priests remain aloof, undertaking a policing rather than pastoral role regarding their flock.

Neither are women priests the answer. Women can just as easily be authoritarian and unaccountable as men. It is the nature of the position itself that needs to significantly change. These changes would start the process toward restoring the Church, but there is a very long way to go.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Tax the rich, don't ask for their charity

Tax the rich, don't ask for their charity
The soap Eastenders recently took on the issue of debt. Single mother Bianca built up more and more debts. The pressure built with her children demanding more consumer goods. Her paltry wages didn’t cover the bills and pride stopped her asking for help. In the end she took some loans from disreputable lenders. As the debts grew, the demands came in. She turned to first one local character and then another to no avail. Her boss Ian Beal sacked her. Then in total desperation she attempted to steal some money and got caught. On licence from prison, she was then taken away by the police back to prison.

The plot line was well done. It brought home the reality of millions struggling to get by on a daily basis, getting themselves into debt and ever more problems. The plot line reached its climax in the same week as the Church based Trussell Trust announced that it now has over 200 food banks across the country. There has been a huge increase in food banks over the past 18 months going from 55 to 201. The proliferation shows just how desperate it is getting for the mass of people.

The food banks provide the very basic staples of life. One parcel has a supply of food that will last three days. People are referred by care professionals like doctors or social workers in the first instance. The measure is usually to tide people over until benefits or income comes in from other sources. But there can be little doubt that the growth has much to do with the worsening economic conditions.

Former Leeds MP John Battle has explained how the churches in his home town are coming together in four areas of need to create food banks. John points to how the basics of the welfare state are being removed as a safety net for those in difficult times. Against a cacophony of misinformation fed to the media about benefit scroungers, the government has set about effectively dismantling the welfare state. The right to have support is being removed and replaced by charity. Under the guise of the so called Big Society, philanthropists can choose to fill the growing need gap or not. In true 19thcentury style the state is effectively withdrawing from the field.

This leaves organisations like the SVP picking up the pieces. John Battle makes an important point about the role of the Church in this scenario, yes as Christians we must move to help the needy and provide charitable support but there is also a justice issue here. Taxes have been taken on the basis of providing support to the needy; the fact that these funds are no longer being used for that purpose is an unacceptable situation. It is literally daylight robbery as the funds are continually redirected to the rich who have more than they require anyway.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien has highlighted this anomaly, accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of immorality in favouring the rich over everyone else. No doubt the drop in top rate tax from 50p in the pound to 45p was in the Cardinal’s mind at the time.

On the day in which the Cardinal made his apposite comments, the Sunday Times rich list was published showing a 4.7 per cent increase in the wealth of the 1,000 richest people in the UK. The amount that these billionaires took over the past year in total went from £395 billion to £414 billion.

This situation really cannot continue with the super-rich continuing to accumulate ever more wealth, whilst the mass of people have their basic rights and services cut in order to service the deficit. The time has come when the rich must be made to pay more in taxes. They have in the main made their money from exploiting the mass of people, yet will not shoulder the burden when difficult times arrive. Indeed, the approach from government is that of kid gloves, not wanting to upset the rich in case they leave the country.

The present situation amounts to turning things back 150 years to the days before the welfare state was created. Then the great philanthropists, ironically in many cases bankers like the Barclays, Rothschilds and the Guerneys, gave huge amounts of their wealth to help the deserving poor. They though held the judgement to decide what was deserving and what not. There was no right to help as came about with the welfare state. It is no time to return to those times now.

The government must focus on the common good of society not the interests of the relatively small number of rich people. This means higher taxes and retaining public services and benefit support. It should be seen as a matter of shame that the fifth biggest economy in the world is so unjustly run that it manages not to feed increasing numbers of its own people. The Church has a role to play both charitably in support of the poor but also as a voice against the injustice of the present worsening situation.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Peter Hain talks peace

Peter Hain regards the Northern Ireland peace process as his greatest achievement in political office.
In his book, Outide In, Peter Hain was happy to acknowledge that finally getting the peace process going in Northern Ireland was his greatest achievement in office.
A child of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Hain was able to bring some of the lessons from that conflict to the Northern Ireland peace process. This meant particularly focusing on Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party players. He set out from the start to bring Ian Paisley senior into the process and played a key role in establishing a good rapore between the DUP leader and Sinn Fein.
Hain also insisted that he was always present in meetings between Tony Blair and the party negotiators. Previously, meetings with Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams and other leaders had only included Blair and his chief of staff Jonathan Powell. Hain recalled the previous exclusion of secretary of states and being told by Mo Mowlem of how she made the tea at one summit.
Coming up to date Hain is concerned about the pressure being put on the Northern Ireland settlement by the present government's cuts agenda. He sees the high level of youth unemployment that now exists providing a potential reservoir of support for paramilitary groups if not addressed quickly.
“Some of the troubles around the parades could be exasperated by a situation where there are large numbers of young people without jobs and hope,” said Hain, who points out that while in British towns like London and Manchester this disillusion is likely to result in anti-social behaviour, in Northern Ireland the youth could get co-opted by small paramilitary groups.
Hain believes that the government needs to be particularly mindful of the effect the cuts could have in Northern Ireland, where the public sector remains the major employer. “I think this government has been conscious of the effects of the reckless cuts and attacks on those on the lowest and middle incomes in Northern Ireland. The size of the public sector makes Northern Ireland more vulnerable to the cuts,” said Hain, who believes the government has got totally the wrong economic recipe, cutting the public sector in the belief that the private sector will pick up the slack. Both are now struggling with growth falling.
He describes the Coalition Government as reckless with its cuts agenda and the way it has attacked those on low and middle incomes. The policies amount to a repeat of what happened in the 1930s cutting the public sector at a time when the private sector is too weak to revive. "They have no spending power to purchase," said Hain, who believes the lack of growth in the UK economy exposes the weakenss of the government's approach. "President Obama's approach in the US is more reflective of the Labour Party's approach, creating economic growth and jobs," said Peter, who contrasts Britain's 0.7 % growth with the 2.2% in America.

The former Cabinet minister believes it is the height of hypocricy for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to promote trade union rights in Iraq, Libya and Burma whilst attacking them at home in Britain.
Former head of research at the Union of Post Office Workers Hain remains proud of his trade union roots. "There is no true freedom in a world that does not have trade union rights entrenched," said Hain, who believes there is more to come in terms of the offensive against the labour movement with attacks likely to increase on the funding link between the unions and Labour Party.
Hain’s own journey from anti-apartheid protester to Cabinet minister forms a key part of his book. He recalls the words of South African author and anti-apartheid campaigner Alan Paton that he was not an all or nothing person but an all or something person. This became Hain’s political mantra throughout his political career. “An all or nothing person stays in and achieves nothing, I wanted to do something rather than just criticise,” said Hain.
Starting in the young liberals when he came to live with his family in the UK at the age of 15. Later he moved to Labour but has always held his liberal values dear.
A common criticism levelled at Hain is that he compromised his earlier ideals upon entering government. One incident that knocks his credentials as a trade unionist was a role played for government in 2001 when he went to European Council of Ministers to negotiate a delay on an employment directive that made companies consult employees before deciding on closures and redundancies. He recalls as a success getting a seven year phasinig in of the directive. "No 10 was pleased," recalled Hain.

Confronted with other contradictions, such as having his own parents put under banning orders in South Africa restricting their movements and who they could meet, yet 30 years later supporting control orders brought in by the Labour Government for terror suspects, he is dismissive. “The rule of law did not exist under apartheid, it was a police state. We had a very difficult situation post 9/11 with the Al Qaeda threat,” said Hain, who was equally dismissive of the comparison to South Africa over the 90 day pre-charge detention that existed there and Tony Blair tried to bring in under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 2005. “I’m not saying we always got it right but the situation here was a world away from police coming in the middle of the night, picking you up and disappearing.”
The former Cabinet minister is more upbeat about Labour’s prospects under Ed Miliband than some of his colleagues. “The Labour Party under Ed Miliband is more in tune with my thinking than under previous leaders,” said Hain. “I think we are better placed than the pundits say to be the biggest party at the next election,” said Hain, who admits running for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 2007 was the biggest mistake of his political life.
He urges the opening up of policy making and developing a policy that is "radical, empowering, internationalist and green."
A strong supporter of devolution, in his book Hain outlines his role in helping to win a yes vote for devolution in Wales in the early days of the first Blair government. He later followed this up by devolving powers in Northern Ireland but he remains a steadfast opponent of Scottish independence. “I’ve always been a believer in decentralising power,” said Hain. “I oppose Scottish independence because it would diminish the rest of Britain. We would not be as strong in decision making arenas like the EU and UN. This is an era when big superpowers like China and India will have 1 billion people each in their countries. It does not make sense to reduce influence by hiving off small nations.”
In this context, the former Northern Ireland secretary welcomes the strength of alliance between Britain and Ireland. “The friendship between Britain and Ireland is enormously valuable; it is stronger now than at any time in history. We face common challenges over climate change and global competitiveness.”
A strong advocate of Tony Blair’s war in Iraq, Hain is perhaps surprisingly reluctant about taking similar action in Iran. “An attack on Iran would be disastrous but Iran must come in and co-operate,” said Hain, who sees the dangers of destabilising the whole region, not just Israel, if Iran were to get nuclear weapons. “Tehran has the capacity to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East which would be disastrous,” said Hain.
*Outside In Peter Hain is published by Biteback Publishing, cost £20.
It is also available in e-form –