Love your enemy - everyone can change: Jack Straw

IssueMarch 2006

Readers - we have a tough one this issue, but I know you're all up to the task... The man we love to hate, the man we need to love to love... is that famous man of straw, the Rt Hon Jack (John Whitaker) Straw.

He was born on 3 August 1946 at Buckhurst Hill, Essex, and found his political voice early on. Lesser trots scattered as he shot to the top - becoming NUS president in 1969. He was called to the bar and briefly practised as a barrister, but soon he heard a higher calling, to the mother of all parliaments, starting as a very, very special adviser to the Secretary of State for Social Services in 1974. And hasn't he done well?

Now his lisping mendacity has taken him all over the world, preaching the Bush-Blair bible to people who understand the “listen or be bombed” (carrot or stick) approach. But he's an old softie really (remember his speeches about the cruelty of seal clubbing?) and not at all at ease with being the harbinger of doom. His Who's Who entry lists his interests as “walking, cooking puddings, music”. All perfectly peaceful occupations are they not?

Remember a radical youth?

In the flesh his skin and chat have none of the greyness of his TV appearances. He's a friendly chap - just ask Mr Mugabe. He's as relaxed when flown off to junkets in Brussels as he is when the military jets take him to war-talks in Washington. So, while he's feeling mellow, let's encourage him to remember his radical youth. Before he started justifying illegal, immoral acts of war, before he started writing off the deaths of hundreds of thousands (and the destruction of a country here, a country there) as inevitable casualties of the fight for democracy and the war on terror.

More than many in the dock (sorry - that should read - on the front benches, ed) he talks of the unacceptability of troops firing on civilians, saying, “We need firm action to deal with terrorism. But that has to be in the context in which there is respect for human rights and, in addition to that, there is progress towards democracy.” The cynic might ask why this is true for Uzbekistan, but not for Iraq (or the UK?).

The holeless policy

Still, even as recently as the mid80s (until News International shifted to Wapping) he was writing in The Times on issues of popular concern. “What is the secret of the holeless pocket?” he asked in October 1985. Indeed!

Now, though, perhaps he wonders, as he prepares to politely request the release of the inappropriately detained Brits in Guantanamo - what is the secret of a holeless policy? Indeed, it took him 749 days and a Butler report to admit the threadbare nature of the Iraq WMD claim, though he sure was graceful about it. He said to parliament: “I accept that some of the information on which we based our judgements was wrong ... But I do not accept that we were wrong to act as we did in the circumstances... The dossier was based on the best judgements of ourselves and the wider international community... Everybody assumed Saddam had these weapons.” So let's all club together and winch him out of the neo-labour (neo-con?) quicksand - let's remind him that age does not bring wisdom, and help him realise that as a long-haired radical humming “No woman no cry” he was wiser than the “eminence grise” he has become.

Topics: Westminster
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