Last Man Standing by Jack Straw

last man standingWell-written and interesting…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Unlike some of the rushed memoirs that came out immediately following Labour’s loss in the UK general election in 2010, Jack Straw has taken time to reflect on his period in office and as a result this book is perhaps a bit more thoughtful than some of the earlier ones. Although the whole Blair/Brown saga is touched on, (how could it not be?), thankfully Straw hasn’t built the whole book round it. In fact, he gives a picture of himself as a man who concentrated very much on the responsibilities of whichever department he was working in and largely stayed out of the party wrangling going on around him.

Straw starts with a quick resumé of his life before Labour took office in 1997 but most of the book is focused on his time in power. Having held two of the Great Offices of State as Home and then Foreign Secretary, Straw is well-placed to discuss the workings of government at the highest levels, and to give some insights into the major events of the time – the Stephen Lawrence debate, prison overcrowding, the formation of the new Justice Department and the Supreme Court amongst many other things. Obviously Iraq and the Middle East rank high in this, particularly as Straw gradually found his own approach diverging from Blair’s. However, again, he manages not to get bogged down in the well-tramped ground of the lead up to the Iraq war, instead expanding the discussion to include his views on Israel, Iran and the policies of the US, UK and Europe in regard to the region. While there is much in here about UK domestic politics, as Foreign Secretary Straw worked closely with the US administration and talks extensively about his relationships with people of the stature of Rice and Powell as they worked together to maintain a common approach to foreign policy matters.

straw and condy telegraph co uk

If the book has a weakness, it is that sometimes Straw assumes that we know and remember events as clearly as he does and so doesn’t take time to explain the background as fully as he might. For instance, he refers to Brown’s remarks about Mrs Duffy during the election campaign, but doesn’t remind us what these remarks were.* As a bit of a political junkie and because the events were so recent, this didn’t present a problem for me but may do so for US readers. Even in the UK I suspect that in 10 years time memories will have faded and I wonder if the book’s longevity will be affected as a result. Perhaps that’s a recommendation to read it now!

Overall, a well written, interesting biography leavened by a considerable amount of self-deprecating humour – very enjoyable.

*(Mrs Duffy was a member of the public who complained to Brown about immigration. He later referred to her privately as a ‘bigoted woman’, not realising his microphone was still switched on. The BBC kindly put the comments on air in the midst of an interview with Brown, leading to a huge press hoohah and a good deal of public humiliation for Brown.)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

32 thoughts on “Last Man Standing by Jack Straw

  1. Great review. You make every book seem interesting! The self-deprecating humo(u)r would definitely step it up a notch. 10 years is recent? 😉

    To be honest, the professor would have probably been scared away from the cover of the book…

    • Thank you, dear Prof! I promise I’ll never try to force you to read political memoirs of British politicians…although Mrs Thatcher’s autobiography is one of the finest I’ve ever read… 😉

      😆 He’s not the most photogenic man in the world – I was googling images of him last night to include in this and some of them are really, really bad…

            • But if you don’t read it, you’ll never find out about the bit where she joins a gang of pirates and trains her pet parrot to sing Flower of Scotland. She fed the parrot on worms, you know…

              Mr Ratherquite? 😈

            • Weren’t we talking about Mrs Thatcher? I’m getting so confused…

              Grisham, perchance? (See, I live thousands of miles away – I can afford to be brave…)

            • Oh! For some strange reason this professor was thinking that we were talking about S&S! 😆

              Thatcher was a pirate?!

              No, he’s a horror author, and I’ve always thought his picture the scariest thing ever…

            • She was only a pirate when she was young – in later life, she took up kung fu and became a master – haven’t you seen her films? You really must read her book…

              Maburnit! Just googled him – that is truly frightening! 😯 I doubt I’ll be getting much sleep tonight…

            • That’s why she and Dutch got on so well – way back in their B-movie days they shared a trailer. But she gave it all up to become an acrobat – don’t you remember when she tight-rope walked across Niagara Falls in pink tights and a spangly leotard? You really must read the book…

              I really need to read one of his books just as an excuse to put his picture on the blog… 😯

            • Would I lie to you? 😉

              Well, I might…but it might be too scary for me (especially if his photo’s on the back). Maybe I’ll get Tuppence to read one instead and she can dictate the review to me…

            • Yes, good thing too. The professor saw part of the movie one dreadful day and it was quite disturbing…a showing of the author would have put it over the top.

              No. 😆 SK purposely misspelled it because it’s a place for kids to bury their pets or something like that.

            • I’m sure I read something of his long ago, but don’t remember anything about it – not a good sign.

              Thank goodness! I was just about to set up a missionary project to go over and distribute dictionaries… 😉

  2. Sometimes those biographies are so interesting, and I’m glad this one is one of them. Good to know too that it is both informative and humourous. Too many pollies take themselves far too seriously in my humble opinion. But that could be just me…

  3. I really should pick up a copy of this. I first came across Jack Straw when I was a student and he was President of the National Union of Students. I had a lot of time for his integrity then and I’ve never seen any reason to change my opinion of him. Definitely one for the tbr pile.

    • I always had a liking for him too and more so after reading the book. But then I often like politicians better after I’ve heard their side of the story, so to speak. We so rarely get a chance to hear anything beyond soundbites these days, until after they leave office.

  4. I read this as soon as it came out. I always respected JS – he was that rare thing, a politician whose “yea” meant “yea” and his “nay” meant “nay”. I and some others would very much have liked him to run for leader of the Labour Party when the Blair/Brown deal was done, but we couldn’t persuade him – the rest was history.

    • Yes, I had a liking for him to, though I’m not convinced he had leadership potential. But the book was interesting, and I’m increasingly not convinced that Prime Minister is the government position for genuine politicians to aspire to – it’s really a job now for a media figurehead, unfortunately.

  5. I had forgotten what Mr Browns exact words were, so yes, if discussing something it would be good to know what it is we’re discussing (or as readers, reading about) but you generally paint a good picture of the book. Would it depend on what political persuasion you are on whether you enjoyed it or not, or seeing it from the people who were there is enough?

    I tried to read Mrs Browns book thinking the wife of the ex PrimeMinister would be an interesting take on things but stopped half way through – she did too much dress discussing and other boring stuff!

    • Personally I can read and enjoy political memoirs of any persuasion, but I think I’m a bit weird! Certainly lots of the comments that reviews attract on Amazon suggest lots of people really hate memoirs from people of the ‘opposite’ side, and assume that enjoying the book must mean you support the politics. Given my two favourite political memoirs are Margaret Thatcher’s and Peter Mandelson’s, I’m not sure what that says about my politics!

      I found this one enjoyable because it wasn’t all about internal party feuding and gave a lot of insight into things that interested me – the Middle Eastern question, the Stephen Lawrence debate etc.

      • The closest I got to reading a political memoir was reading a biography of Liona Boyd — a guitar player who had an affair with Trudeau , a former Canadian prime minister. Have you ever read one on Trudeau? He sounds like a pretty cool dude.

        • No, but I do remember him – in fact, I think he’s about the only Canadian Prime Minister I could name. Hmm..you’re right, a biography about him would be interesting. I must look out for one…

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