South Africa: Mixed memories from Labour and Tories
09 December 2013 12:00 AM

'You, Mr Speaker, were on the wrong side of the apartheid argument': Old grievances aired in Mandela debate

09 December 2013

The Commons saw old scores being settled alongside heartfelt tributes to the anti-apartheid movement today, as MPs debated the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Peter Hain, whose parents fled to the UK after becoming 'banned persons' in South Africa due to their opposition to the racist regime, held old Tory sympathisers to account in the most aggressive speech of the day.

His targets included Speaker John Bercow, who was chairman of the pro-apartheid Federation of Conservative Students before he drifted to the left.

"You, Mr Speaker, were on the wrong side of the apartheid argument," Hain told the Speaker, who nodded gravely.

The former Labour minister credited Bercow with renouncing his past and praised David Cameron for apologising for the Tory party's previous support for apartheid.

But he took issue with Conservative peer Lord Tebbit and former Telegraph editor Charles Moore for trying "to claim their complicity in apartheid somehow brought about its end".

He added that although everyone claimed to be against apartheid "some did things about it, others didn't".

Hain's speech came just moments after former Conservative foreign secretary was berated across the Chamber for saying F W de Klerk had a more difficult time than Mandela in dismantling apartheid.

The session also saw emotional and widely-praised speeches from Cameron, Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown.

"His greatness was the greatness of the human soul," Brown said, in his third Commons appearance this year.

"He teaches us that no injustice can last forever."

Miliband said: "His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying for a bigger and not a smaller politics.

"We should also remember today the hundreds of thousands of people who were the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.

He added: "The cause was highly unfashionable. Often considered dangerous by those in authority and opposed by those in government.

"The prime minister was right a few years ago to acknowledge the history."

The line about acknowledging history is a veiled reference to the Tory party's history of supporting the apartheid regime.

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