Peter Hain, former cabinet member to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and recently retired Shadow Welsh Secretary agreed to speak with gair rhydd, to discuss the upcoming European Elections, and the role of Wales in Europe more generally.
The discussion opened with a question regarding the Labour Party’s current standings in the European polls. Mr Hain stated that “Ed Miliband is certainly making the weather”, this dated expression meaning that he was in control of the European situation with the Labour leadership successfully pushing towards their European targets. Mr Hain went on to discuss the disproportionate nature of an election such as these, where it may not show the true feeling of the national electorate.
Mr Hain suggested that, for many people, the election was a chance to rebel against the political classes, even stating “the political classes have a lot to answer for, I include myself in that just by the nature of my position.” He said it was this anger and disenfranchisement, which has allowed UKIP to get a foot up in these elections. Mr Hain stated, “UKIP are riding the crest of the Anti-Politics wave,” also attributing their success to “UKIP voters always voting.” Suggesting when the rest of the UK are uninterested in the political landscape, UKIP benefits due to its members being so committed to this anti political stance.
Nigel Farage himself has stated that the majority of his supporters are people who would probably not consider themselves political, and Mr Hain’s comments reflect this.
When asked whether he considered the time to be right for their to be talk of a referendum on British membership of the European Union, Mr Hain repeated the sentiments of both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats by stating that a law has been passed which requires a referendum on Europe if there is a significant transfer of power from the UK to Brussels. This is a point, which has been criticised by commentators as avoiding the topic of a referendum, due to the arbitrary nature of the phrase ‘significant transfer of power.’ However, Mr Hain’s sentiment seemed genuine, as he “would only want a referendum, if there was something to have a referendum about,” adding, “the Labour Party has never been against a referendum, we are the only ones who offered a vote on Europe in 1975.”
The bulk of the discussion, however, was about how Wales has benefitted from UK membership in the European Union. Some of the numbers that were thrown out amounted to a staggering amount of money. £90 million will be spent by the European Union on helping Wales to get fibre optic broadband by 2016, a further £15 billion spent on EU students, including Welsh students, aiding them to study abroad through the Erasmus program.
Mr Hain was also keen to discuss the success of Jobs Growth Wales, a scheme jointly funded by the Welsh National Assembly and the European Union. This project has reported to be the most successful youth employment scheme in Western Europe, and this success “could not be achieved without EU funding.”
There is also a sense of Labour achievement in the £2.1 billion in funding for Welsh economic development by 2020. However, this last number struck me, as this is money in the European Union usually reserved for the most deprived areas of Europe. This throws into question the economic aid Wales gets from Westminster, if it is required to bang its begging bowl against the tables of Brussels.
This discussion was a pleasure, Mr Hain had notably interesting views on the benefits of the European Union, particularly the benefits of Europe for Wales, and whilst many of his comments were insightful, there was the sense of toeing the party line. Mr Hain however, showed great passion in responding to questions on the 2014 elections, and highlighted how the topic is growing increasingly relevant, with the animosity shown towards the EU by many UK citizens.