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Jack Straw

May 27, 2013


Jack Straw, who spent 13 years at the heart of the New Labour government, (as both Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary), has published his memoirs, Last Man Standing. 
He told us how he recalls memories of his parents’ mis-matched marriage, the arguments and poverty that led him to ask them to send him to boarding school (after reading about such possibilities in novels about middle-class families). Politics was the only thing his parents agreed on, and he got his socialist beliefs from his father (a conscious objector during WWI). 
Reading from an early age is what Straw believes partly fed his aspirations, and at Leeds University he became president of the NUS, qualifying and working as a lawyer, before working for Barbara Castle and Peter Shaw in the Labour government of the 70’s, then becoming an MP. Asked what is the key to being a successful minister, he advises ‘Be clear about what you want to do. The Civil Service is not the enemy – they are the means by which you can deliver. Work hard and apply yourself, and with a bit of luck provide inspiration.’ 
There was much discussion about his conflicts with John Smith over his wish to amend clause 4, and we heard how Smith ranted at him for about an hour over it – he agreed principle over the amendments but thought now was not the right time to make them. Straw has made controversial comments about John Smith and his reliance on alcohol in the book, something he still stands by today. Discussion then went onto discuss the rights and wrongs of going to war with Iraq. 
When asked about his proudest achievements in politics he answers that getting an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder was one, his work on race relations and improvements to how society treats one another. 
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