😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
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.
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.)