Straw 'censors' anti-US
Foreign Office anger at unauthorised Hain lecture
Michael White, political editor
Saturday October 11, 2003
The Welsh secretary, Peter Hain, has been forced by Jack Straw to scrap a prepared speech in which he urged Britain to embrace a "progressive, united Europe" rather than the socially divisive free market philosophy of the United States under President George Bush.
There may have been a hint in the draft speech that ministers want Tony Blair's ally on Iraq, President Bush, defeated next November to achieve "our ideal partnership of principle between a progressive united Europe and a progressive internationalist US. We have to work for both. At present we have neither. We have to work with America whoever is in charge."
In the draft speech, which was to have been delivered as the Jean Monnet lecture at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth on Thursday night, Mr Hain went out of his way to stress the need for Europe to learn from the US and to warn against "turning our back on America, a gift to US unilateralists".
The quest for a more equal partnership should lead to "neither rivalry nor subservience, it said.
But his main offence appears to have been a sharp contrast between Europe's preference for "an open, democratic world committed to global social justice, governed by multilateral rules and enforced by modernised international institutions" and the clear but unspecified alternative offered by US neo-conservatives.
Mr Hain's argument was that Europe's divisions have marginalised its influence, especially in defence and foreign policy. Britain has "far more to learn from Europe's record of social investment than we do from America if we want all our people to succeed in a knowledge economy", he planned to say.
The key paragraph, which officials will not identify, may well have been what followed. "American-style free-marketism may have delivered higher productivity and growth in the US, but at a cost of poor public services, low social standards, weak communities, rising violence and high poverty. That's not an agenda for a progressive Europe."
Though less obliquely expressed, that verdict is close to the Labour conference speech made by Gordon Brown, the chancellor, 10 days ago.
Foreign office officials yesterday played down the role of the foreign secretary in blocking Mr Hain's delivery of the lecture and would not state explicitly which paragraphs caused the trouble.
But there was no doubt that the draft of Mr Hain's text issued to the Welsh media before it had been cleared in Whitehall caused anger at the department where he was minister for Europe until last summer's reshuffle.
Mr Hain had agreed to give the lecture 18 months ago, before he gave up his EU responsibilities on the draft constitution. But he felt honour-bound not to renege. He assumed the speech would cause no problems. In the event he improvised a speech on Europe.
Ministers keep a wary eye on the MP for Neath, who is leader of the Commons as well as Welsh secretary. His semi-authorised licence to dissent is used to the full and annoys some. In June he proposed that top earners pay more tax, to ease the burden on middle income families.
Unlike that foray into Labour's tax policies, Mr Hain is said to have had no
intention of rocking any Foreign Office boats at a time when mending bridges
with Britain's European allies over Iraq and the proposed EU constitution is a
priority and relations with Washington are fraught.
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