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.
Straw 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 his socialist beliefs were inspired by his father, a conscientious objector during WWI. Reading from an early age fed his aspirations.
At Leeds University he became president of the NUS, qualified and worked as a lawyer. He then worked for Barbara Castle and Peter Shaw in the Labour government of the 70’s before becoming an MP himself. Asked 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. He agreed principle to the amendments but thought it was not the right time to make them. Straw has made controversial comments about John Smith and his reliance on alcohol in his book, something he stands by.
Florence pressed Straw on the war on Iraq and defending his position Straw challenged Hans Blix’s version of events.
When asked about his proudest achievements in politics Straw answers that getting an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder was one, his work on race relations and also the improvements to how people on society treat one another.