PinkNews.co.uk exclusive

With the “battle” for the leadership of the Labour party over before it even started, all eyes are now on the deputy role. A lack of choice is hardly an issue in this race, with six MPs jockeying to fill John Prescott’s shoes.

Tony Grew met with contender Peter Hain to discuss gay rights in the UK and in Europe and to find out why the former anti-apartheid campaigner believes he is the best person to become deputy leader of a party desperate for a fourth term of office.

Fans of the BBC drama Spooks would feel at home in the Northern Ireland Office.

In their distinguished but somewhat anonymous office block round the corner from the Houses of Parliament, there is no smiling receptionist sitting behind a desk.

Instead you are confronted with those tube-like floor-to-ceiling security doors so lovingly featured in the MI5 drama.

A security guard behind inch-thick glass examined my ID and I was ushered into a room with two cameras and reinforced windows to await my escort.

As I am taken upstairs to meet Peter Hain, she explains that the NIO’s proximity to the actual real life MI5 building is partly the reason for the ultra-tight security.

Mr Hain himself greets me in a suitably grand office, as befits his status of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Wales.

The 57-year-old is less perma-tanned orange in person than he sometimes appears on television, and during our 30 minutes together he is keen to stress the role he has played in advancing LGBT rights in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

One of the more bizarre aspects of a party leadership campaign is that candidates approach these sort of encounters as if they were in front of a job interview panel.

Mr Hain sets out his stall.

As the gay representative I learn that he is proud of imposing the Sexual Orientation Regulations on Northern Ireland, despite the howls of displeasure from the DUP.

That he is responsible for ensuring that the Civil Partnerships Bill made it onto the legislative agenda.

That when he negotiated the European Constitution as the government representative he argued for much more extensive protections for people on grounds of sexuality.

He has positive things to say about hate crimes and homophobic bullying in schools.

He is keen to point out that when the issue of exemptions for Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies came before Cabinet, he was having none of it.

And why shouldn’t he big up his achievements? There are five other MPs vying for the Deputy Leadership, and every vote counts.

To be fair to Mr Hain, his credentials as a fighter against prejudice are impeccable.

He did decide to use his powers as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services, known as the Sexual Orientation Regulations, with no exemptions for Catholics or anyone else.

Undemocratic, some would argue, as the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly seemed split on the matter and indeed devolved government looked likely to be resorted imminently.

“I took a very straightforward view on this,” he explained.

“I have spent my whole life fighting discrimination whether it is on grounds of race, gender, disability, age, or sexuality.

“My parents were jailed and issued with banning orders and then eventually as a family, when I was a teenager, we were forced into exile from the old apartheid South Africa for fighting racism of the most brutal tyrannical kind.

“When the decision came to me as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, do I proceed to legislate to stop discrimination against gay people, bisexuals and lesbians I said, ‘yes I would’ because that is where I am coming from.

“I am proud of the fact that that in Northern Ireland, with its horrible history of bigotry and prejudice and discrimination, including on gay rights, that I was the person who has changed that forever.

“I do not know what would have happened in the Assembly, it might well have been log jammed.

“I would not have felt proud of myself if I had evaded my responsibilities on this matter.

“I am not in power just to have the trappings of office, I am in power to change society and I think this will go down as a landmark change, which was without any exceptions, unlike elsewhere in the UK, and in a sense set the pace.”

“Unlike elsewhere” refers to the unedifying spectacle of the SORs being delayed in the rest of the UK, while Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly considered whether Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies should be exempt from the regulations.

When news of this proposed opt-out broke, it caused outrage among gay campaigners and there was a heated discussion in Cabinet.

Ruth Kelly, as a prominent Catholic, took a lot of flak over the issue, but it is also known that Tony Blair was also in favour.

“Matters had to be processed in a different way but I took the view that there should not be any exceptions and we proceeded and I am proud that we did,” says Mr Hain.

Pretty clear what side of the fence he is on, but he rejects the assertion that the proposed opt-out damaged the Blair government’s gay rights record.

“In defence of the government it’s very important that we do not try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is a major step forward.”

In the end Mr Hain and the majority of Cabinet prevailed.

The Catholics have been given until the end of 2008 to comply with the law or shut down their adoption agencies.

Mr Hain, the MP for Neath since 1991, is an unusual Northern Ireland Secretary. In the 1970s he was best known as a radical anti-apartheid campaigner.

He was instrumental in a direct-action movement that disrupted tours by the South African rugby union and cricket teams in 1969 and 1970.

He became a target of the Establishment, and was convicted of criminal conspiracy on 1972 for his part in those radical protests. He was not very popular with the South African authorities either.

We discuss a bizarre incident from 1976 – did he really rob a bank, or was he the victim of more dirty tricks?

“Is it true that I was framed for snatching 490 pounds worth of five pound notes from a Barclays bank just round the corner from my house?

“A quite surreal case in which the SA security services were targeting me at the time. They sent me a letter bomb a few years before which did not explode.

“The anti-terrorist squad descended on our house and immobilised it. They were coping with IRA bombs at the time.”

Mr Hain matured from 70s radical to 90s New Labour insider.

He has held various government posts since the 1997 general election, joining the Cabinet in 2002.

What can this Blair loyalist hope to offer a Labour party battered by the Iraq war and with its membership, and morale, at a record low?

In January he stuck the boot into the outgoing Bush administration and their political ideology, telling the New Statesman that they are “the most right-wing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory.”

Strong words – will Mr Hain give an equally frank analysis of where New Labour has failed?

“Obviously all governments makes mistakes and there have been mistakes.

“I don’t think I am going to share my views with you on what those are.

“I think we have got to learn from those mistakes and we have to move forward on Iraq, but provided we use this period of transition to Gordon Brown as leader, and a new Deputy Leader, to revitalise the party.

“To promote policy making on a more partnership basis than delivering policy on high and bouncing policies on everybody, then I think we can win the next election.”

There is some veiled acknowledgement that New Labour has been high-handed in its approach and the voters have become disengaged as a result.

“We had two landslides in 1997 and 2001 and then in 2005 we lost millions of voters, so clearly we have got to learn the lessons from that and bind people back together again.

“Actually if you look at the way we have worked, we have consulted more, we have brought more groups into the process of government, including the LBG community, and I think that has resulted in tremendous policy advances.

“Just look at the agenda we have implemented, the things we have done in terms of transforming the legal rights of gay lesbian and bisexual people.

“We have been in power 10 years – we have just transformed Northern Ireland and I have been part of that – taking it away from bigotry and horror, and people have been mesmerised by that, but I would guess that within a few months time they will say it is just part of the furniture of life.

“A strong economy, low mortgages, low inflation, rising public spending, more jobs than ever before, just part of the furniture of life.

“They aren’t – they are down to government policy and the fact we have been in power ten years means we have to win more support than would have been the case earlier on.”

While New Labour may have lost the affection of the electorate, it is the state of the party that is more worrying.

In concert with the other candidates for Deputy Leader, Mr Hain wants to rekindle the party’s fighting spirit, knowing it will be their only chance of a Brown victory.

“The party is in a mood where it wants leadership that listens not lectures, that involves everybody with grassroots opinion.”

On gay issues, Mr Hain has lots to talk about. On Civil Partnerships:

“I am proud that as Leader of the House of Commons I insisted that the Civil Partnerships bill went into the legislative programme and went into the Queen’s Speech.

“I do not know whether it would have happened if I had not been Leader, but I know the steps I took ensured that it was there.

“There was a lot of concern as to whether the Lords would logjam it and affect the rest of our legislative programme but I said, “no, it is the right thing to do” and as it happens it went through pretty smoothly.”

Mr Hain says he personally supports new laws to outlaw incitement to hatred against LGBT people.

On the subject of homophobic bullying in schools, he uses the Northern Irish process as a working example:

“What we have got to ensure, and that is the main responsibility of the government, is that the rule of law prevents discrimination.

“As in Northern Ireland, once it is in statute then attitudes start changing, because people do not want to behave unlawfully, whatever their private prejudices might be.

“That starts to create a different climate in which it is possible to make advances, including in challenging some peoples deep-seated fears and attitudes.

“We have got to go beyond equality legislation – we have got to involve teachers and parents and school governors in a proper process of dialogue about this problem.

“There was a Race Relations Act from the Labour government in 1968 and we introduced another one in 1976, but that has not stopped racism.

“It has made a big, big difference and it has made racists much more furtive and they are much less self-confident than they used to be.

“You can change things fundamentally by putting in place basic civil rights but you still have got a big job of work to do to change attitudes and to change prejudice and you just got to keep working at it.”

Change takes time, and Northern Ireland is living proof.

Mr Hain points out that the first Civil Partnership took place in Belfast, but acknowledges the province has a long way to go on the road to equality.

“When I launched the consultation on the process that led to legislation banning discrimination in goods and services, in July 2006, it was the same day as the gay Pride march in Belfast.

“I offered to meet the leaders of the groups concerned – they were very pleased to have the consultation paper issued on that day but they were not willing to meet me because many of them had not told their families about their sexuality, because they were frightened of doing so.

“This is even the leaders of the main pressure groups involved.

“I just thought that said something about the change in mindset that you need still to achieve in Northern Ireland and the tremendous change we have to go through to overcome prejudice.”

Prejudice that the province’s largest political party wears like a badge of honour.

The DUP tried to overturn the SORs in the House of Lords, and complained loud and long about the rights of Christians to turn away gays from bookshops and bed and breakfasts as ungodly “sodomites.”

Why does Peter Hain think that the laws he implemented will survive with the DUP running Northern Ireland?

“Because of cross-community voting you couldn’t make a change to unravel or repeal the legislation I introduced on goods and services.

“I think there is a great respect for the law among members of the DUP, whether they approve of it or not, and I don’t think you will find there is any attempt to unravel it.

“And if there were, in the way that the devolved government acted administratively or in terms of resources, it will be challengeable in the courts, and the courts would find against the government so that means its not going to happen.

“The gay community can feel quite comfortable in that.”

Peter Hain is facing five competitors in the race to succeed John Prescott. Gordon Brown faces none.

It seems a bad start to renewing the party, in effect handing control of the UK government and the keys to No 10 to Mr Brown without a proper contest or even debate.

Mr Hain defends the slightly Stalinist spectacle of over 85% of the Labour party’s MPs nominating Mr Brown:

“Gordon would have welcomed a contest, I would have welcomed a contest … but the rules of the party state clearly that you have to attract a sufficiently significant proportion of MPs to put you on the ballot paper and that’s right.

“You have got to be a very serious candidate to win such a substantial section of your party’s colleagues, 44 in this case, otherwise you wouldn’t be seen as a candidate capable of doing the job.

“There is no point in having a contest for its own sake, you have got to have a contest between people who are seen as capable of doing the job.”

So Gordon it is, and Mr Hain thinks he is the man to take on the role of shaping and revitalising Labour into an election-winning machine for a fourth time in a row.

Only Harriet Harman, Hazel Blears, Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Jon Cruddas stand in his way.

A full transcript of the interview is reproduced below.

You were recently critical of the neo-cons and the failure of their foreign policy in Iraq – what are the policy failures at home in the last 10 years?

We have delivered the strongest economy, with 10 years of continuous growth that people now take for granted but it’s never happened before that you have had growth and spending grow consistently.

Obviously all government makes mistakes and there have been mistakes.

I don’t think I am going to share my views with you on which those are.

I think we have got to learn from those mistakes and we have to move forward on Iraq but provided we use this period of transition to Gordon Brown as leader, and a new Deputy Leader, to revitalise the party, to promote policy making on a more partnership basis than delivering policy on high and bouncing policies on everybody then I think we can win the next election.

So we have not had a partnership government up until now?

Well I think we have lost touch in recent years. We had two landslides in 1997 and 2001 and then in 2005 we lost millions of voters so clearly we have got to learn the lessons from that and bind people back together again.

But actually if you look at the way we have worked, we have consulted more, we have brought more groups into the process of government including the LBG community increasingly and I think that has resulted in tremendous policy advances if you just look at the agenda we have implemented, the things we have done in terms of transforming the legal rights of gay lesbian and bisexual people.

We have been in power 10 years – we have just transformed NI and I have been part of that – taking it away from bigotry and horror, and people have been mesmerised by that, but I would guess that within a few months time they will say it is just part of the furniture of life.

A strong economy, low mortgages, low inflation, rising public spending, more jobs than ever before, just part of the furniture of life. They aren’t – they are down to government policy and the fact we have been in power ten years means we have to win support than would have been the case earlier on.

GB will be uncontested for leader. Does that hurt the process?

Gordon would have welcomed a contest, I would have welcomed a contest, nobody is afraid of a contest

There will be a fiercely fought contest among six of us for the Deputy Leader but the rules of the party state clearly that you have to attract a sufficiently significant proportion of MPs to put you on the ballot paper and that’s right

Because you have got to be a very serious candidate to win such a substantial section of your party’s colleagues, 44 in this case, otherwise you wouldn’t be seen as a candidate capable of doing the job.

There is no point in having a contest for its own sake; you have got to have a contest between people who are seen as capable of doing the job.

My parliamentary colleagues took the decision they did and that’s the rules of the party – it’s democracy

How do you see the job of Deputy?

The Deputy Leader has got to be right at the heart of the cabinet, otherwise you do not know what is actually happening, you can’t get a grip on the policy detail which is all important. That’s my first point.

As it happens, I think the job would be best done without running a big government department but that is a matter for the PM. He will appoint his cabinet ministers to particular portfolios

I want to do the job because I think its absolutely vital, in order to win the next election, to establish a proper process of partnership.

With the grass roots, with trades unionists, with backbench MPs, and through them with the wider country in order to win the next election. I want to do this because I think we face a big challenge and we will only win the next election if we adopt this kind of approach to policy-making.

My priority would be to do the job in such a way that binds the government together, binds the whole party together and binds the country together.

It’s absolutely essential is done in a way that brings people together.

I have shown in all my government jobs in 10 years of government, including some tough jobs, that I bring people together, most notably recently in NI, and the party is in a mood where it wants leadership that listens not lectures, that involves everybody with grassroots opinion

The DUP will pick apart gay rights? The most nakedly homophobic party in the UK now in government in NI

No I don’t think so. I think it is significant that the Assembly tied on the vote when the Unionists …

One member of the Assembly was dead but still voted!

Well yes, but because of cross-community voting you couldn’t make a change to unravel or repeal the legislation I introduced on goods and services.

I took a very straightforward view on this. I have spent my whole life fighting discrimination whether it is on grounds of race, gender, disability, age, and sexuality.

My parents were jailed and issued with banning orders and then eventually as a family when I was a teenager we were forced into exile from the old apartheid SA fighting racism of the most brutal tyrannical kind.

When the decision came to me as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, do I proceed to legislate to stop discrimination against gay people, bisexuals and lesbians I said, ‘yes I would’ because that is where I am coming from.

I am not in power just to have the trappings of office, I am in power to change society and I think this will go down as a landmark change, which was without any exceptions, unlike elsewhere in the UK, and in a sense set the pace.

I am proud of the fact that I, as Secretary of State, and that Northern Ireland, with its horrible history of bigotry and prejudice and discrimination, including on gay rights, I was the person who has changed that forever.

I do not know what would have happened in the Assembly, it might well have been log jammed.

I would not have felt proud of myself if I had evaded my responsibilities on this matter.

When I launched the consultation on the process that led to this legislation banning discrimination in goods and services in July 2006, it was the same day as the gay Pride March in Belfast.

I offered to meet the leaders of the groups concerned – they were very pleased to have the consultation paper issued on that day but they were not willing to meet me because many of them had not told their families about their sexuality, because they were frightened of doing so.

This is even the leaders of the main pressure groups involved. I just thought that said something about the change in mindset that you need still to achieve in NI and the tremendous change we have to go through to overcome prejudice

At least now the law of the land is that it is illegal, which makes it much more easy to change attitudes.

Why was the introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations in the rest of the UK so shambolic?

Matters had to be processed in a different way but I took the view that there should not be any exceptions and we proceeded and I am proud that we did.

In defence of the government it’s very important that we do not try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is a major step forward.

I am also proud that as Leader of the Commons I insisted that the Civil Partnerships bill went into the legislative programme and went into the Queen’s Speech.

I do not know whether it would have happened if I had not been Leader of the Commons, but I know the steps I took ensured that it was there.

There was a lot of concern as to whether the Lords would logjam it and affect the rest of our legislative programme but I said, “no, it is the right thing to do” and as it happens it went through pretty smoothly.

What you have to display in government is to stand firm and show a bit of determination and my record of 10 years in government demonstrates that.

Gay people are concerned that the SOR could be overturned in NI

The law has been changed in NI. It is not going to be repealed and I think there is a great respect for the law among members of the DUP, whether they approve of it or not, and I don’t think you will find there is any attempt to unravel it.

And if there were, in the way that the devolved government acted administratively or in terms of resources, it will be challengeable in the courts, and the courts would find against the government so that means its not going to happen

The gay community can feel quite comfortable in that.

The process of change is always difficult especially when you are confronting fundamentally held beliefs. I just think we have got to be more tolerant of eachother and work together to get through change.

I think it is very significant indeed that in NI there has been none of the equivalent turbulence that there was in England and who would have expected that around this issue from the churches.

The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights? How can it serve gays and religious people?

People can have those beliefs and we can respect their right to have beliefs but the question is when action as a result of those beliefs infringed the rights of others.

The way we resolved it in NI and will after the transitional period in GB has both respected the private behaviour of people with strong religious beliefs but stop discrimination in any public dimension with goods and services.

Hate crimes

We have legislated now for incitement to racial hatred and against incitement to religious hatred and I think we have got to make sure that there are no hate crimes against any groups in Britain, whether that is on grounds of faith or sexuality, race or any other grounds.

You would support specific legislation covering sexual orientation?

I do not know if this has come on to the government agenda, if you are asking for my personal view of this the answer is yes.

Homophobic bullying in schools? Big issue with religious organisations running schools?

We have got to work all these things through. I know that there are lots of complaints from the gay community about the attitudes of Muslims towards homosexuality and homophobia in Islam.

There are complaints about other faiths. What we have got to ensure, and that is the main responsibility of the government, is that the rule of law prevents discrimination.

As in NI, once it is in statute then attitudes start changing because people do not want to behave unlawfully, whatever their private prejudices might be.

That starts to create a different climate in which it is possible to make advances, including in challenging some peoples deep-seated fears and attitudes.

I do not think the Equality Act covers schools in terms of bullying?

We have got to go beyond equality legislation – we have got to involve teachers and parents and school governors in a proper process of dialogue about this problem.

There was a Race Relations Act from the Labour government in 1968 and we introduced another one in 1976, but that has not stopped racism.

It has made a big, big difference and it has made racists much more furtive and they are much less self-confident than they used to be.

You can change things fundamentally by putting in place basic civil rights but you still have got a big job of work to do to change attitudes and to change prejudice and you just got to keep working at it.

Poland, Latvia, huge problems with gay rights …

Those countries, in joining the EU, have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans discrimination of any kind, including homophobia.

That is a yardstick against which the citizens of countries in which there is unacceptable government behaviour will be challenged.

It is important that the EU takes on the agenda in ensuring that homophobia is tackled just as it has been tackling racism or discrimination on the grounds of gender.

Equality for women has been, quite rightly, a big pioneering achievement of the EU and it is a very strong issue.

I noticed when I was negotiating the European Constitution as the government representative it was the top discrimination issue.

I had to argue for much more extensive protections for people on grounds of race and sexuality.

In a sense the debate in Brussels and the climate in Europe has lagged a bit behind.

Will they get there eventually?

Of course. The onward march of humanity … we are gradually seeing in Europe a much more egalitarian, much more advances in human rights in every sense of the words and I think the same will be the case here.

Is it true that you robbed a bank in 1976?

No! Is it true that I was framed for snatching 490 pounds worth of five pound notes from a Barclays bank just round the corner from my house?

A quite surreal case in which the SA security services were targeting me at the time. They sent me a letter bomb a few years before which did not explode.

Funnily enough the anti-terrorist squad descended on our house and immobilised it. They were coping with IRA bombs at the time.

Does it feel weird to be an establishment figure, on the inside of the tent, whereas before you were a renowned anti-establishment figure?

When I got past a demonstration, and sometimes they are against me, as in NI, I always try to stop to have a dialogue with people, because I have been there.

It is very important that you have ministers at my level on the inside that have been on the outside.

The change comes about both through, if you like, extra-Parliamentary pressure and then inside being able to make the changes, though Parliament, that are necessary.

The pressure and the campaigning of the gay community has been a classic example of that.

If there had not been that pressure from outside, we would not have got the establishment responding from inside. You have got to have both working together.