Jack Straw

Jack Straw

Infobox Minister
honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable

name = Jack Straw
honorific-suffix =

office1 = Lord Chancellor
Secretary of State for Justice
term_start1 = 28 June 2007
term_end1 =
primeminister1 = Gordon Brown
predecessor1 = The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
successor1 =
office2 = Leader of the House of Commons
Lord Privy Seal
term_start2 = 6 May 2006
term_end2 = 27 June 2007
primeminister2 = Tony Blair
predecessor2 = Geoff Hoon
successor2 = Harriet Harman
office3 = Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
term_start3 = 8 June 2001
term_end3 = 6 May 2006
primeminister3 = Tony Blair
predecessor3 = Robin Cook
successor3 = Margaret Beckett
office4 = Home Secretary
term_start4 = 2 May 1997
term_end4 = 8 June 2001
primeminister4 = Tony Blair
predecessor4 = Michael Howard
successor4 = David Blunkett
constituency_MP5 = Blackburn
majority5 = 8,009 (19.2%)
predecessor5 = Barbara Castle
successor5 =
term_start5 = 3 May 1979
term_end5 =
birth_date = birth date and age|1946|08|3|df=y
birth_place = Buckhurst Hill, Essex, England
party = Labour
alma_mater = University of Leeds
website = [http://www.jackstrawmp.org.uk/ www.jackstrawmp.org.uk]

John Whitaker Straw (born 3 August 1946), most commonly known as Jack Straw, is a senior British Labour Party politician. On 28 June 2007 he was appointed to the offices of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Justice. [cite web|url=http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement_280607.htm|title="Jack Straw is new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor", Ministry of Justice announcement]

Previously he was Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001, Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006 and Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons from 2006 to 2007. He has been the Member of Parliament for Blackburn since 1979.

Early life

He was born in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, England of part-Jewish background and brought up at Loughton, Essex by his mother, Joan Sylvia GilbeyWho's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007] [General Register Office Birth Index 1946 Q3 Epping 5a 178] on a council estate after his father Walter Arthur Whitaker Straw,Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007] an insurance salesman and the son of Arthur Whitaker Straw, left the family and condemned them to poverty. He was educated at Staples Road School, Loughton, and then boarded at the fee-charging Brentwood School (where he was already expressing political ambitions and took the name "Jack", allegedly after the 14th century peasant leader Jack Straw — although "Jack" is a common diminutive of "John") and read law at the University of Leeds.

Straw was elected chair of the Leeds University Labour Club in 1966. When Straw disrupted a student trip to Chile, he was branded a "troublemaker acting with malice aforethought" by the Foreign Office. [cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5228770.stm|title=Straw comments reflect Cabinet unease] Straw was then elected president of Leeds University Union with the support of the Broad Left, a coalition including Liberal, Socialist and the Communist Societies. The Leeds University Union Council recently reinstated Jack Straw's life membership of the union, as a previous motion had removed his life membership and led to the removal of his name from the Presidents’ Board due to personal disagreement with his political decisions. [cite web|url=http://www.luuonline.com/referendum/documents/ucagenda5nov07.pdf|title=Leeds University Union Union Council - November Referendum Meeting|format=PDF] At the National Union of Students conference at the end of 1967 he and David Adelstein, the Radicals leader from the London School of Economics, were defeated in their quest for officership in the NUS. That was repeated in April 1968 when Straw stood for NUS President and was defeated by Trevor Fisk. [ "Student Power" by Sir Patrick Wall, MC, MP., Conservative Monday Club, London, 1969, p.8.] In 1969 he succeeded in being elected President of the increasingly more radical National Union of Students, having led the campaign to remove the "no politics" clause from the NUS constitution.

He qualified as a barrister and practised criminal law. From 1971 to 1974 Jack Straw was a member of the Inner London Education Authority and Deputy Leader from 1973 to 1974. He served as political adviser to Barbara Castle at the Department of Social Security from 1974 to 1976 and then to Peter Shore at the Department for the Environment to 1977. He then worked as a researcher for the Granada TV current affairs series, "World in Action".

During his time as political adviser, Straw was asked by Castle to examine the social security file of Norman Scott, who had claimed that the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe was behind an attempt to murder him. Castle had been asked by Harold Wilson to investigate Scott's file to see if it contained any evidence that he was involved in a security conspiracy against Thorpe. Straw informed Castle that when he went to examine Scott's file, he found it was missing. The journalist Barrie Penrose has alleged that Straw subsequently leaked details from the file to the media. Straw remains silent on that matter. He has denied allegations by Joe Haines, Wilson's press secretary, that Wilson asked for Scott's file to be viewed for party political purposes, in the hopes of gaining information that could be used to damage Thorpe if he attempted to form a coalition government with Edward Heath. By the time he was asked to view the file, Heath had ceased to be leader of the Conservative Party. At the time of the scandal, the general view, promoted in particular by "Private Eye", was that Wilson was using his influence to help and protect Thorpe and certainly not to smear him. Thorpe was cleared of any involvement in the attempt on Scott's life.

Member of Parliament

Straw was selected to run for Parliament in Blackburn, Lancashire, Barbara Castle's seat, in 1977 after Castle decided not to run again. He won the seat in 1979 and has held it since, also becoming honorary president of the soccer team Blackburn Rovers. In the 1980s, he was an opposition spokesman on economic affairs and later on the environment before promotion to the Shadow Cabinet in 1987.

hadow Cabinet

Straw's first Shadow Cabinet post was as Education spokesman from 1987. In this role, he called on Local Education Authorities to give private Muslim and Orthodox Jewish schools the right to opt out of the state system and still receive public funds. He also stated that the schools should be free to enter the state system. His comments came at a time of great controversy regarding the funding of Muslim schools. Straw argued that the controversy arose out of ignorance and stereotyping about women's role in Islam, pointing out that Muslim women acquired property rights centuries before European women. Straw played a significant role in articulating the Labour party's interest in and sensitivity to the issue.

Straw briefly served as Shadow Environment Secretary under John Smith from 1992 to 1994, speaking on matters concerning local government. When Tony Blair became leader after Smith's death, he chose Straw to succeed him as Shadow Home Secretary. Like Blair, Straw believed Labour's electoral chances had been damaged in the past by the party appearing to be "soft on crime" and he developed a reputation as being even more authoritarian than the Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard. Straw garnered particular attention for comments condemning "aggressive beggars, winos and squeegee merchants" and calling for a curfew on children.

Home Secretary

Appointed as Home Secretary after the 1997 general election, he brought forward the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, increased police powers against terrorism and proposed a reduction in the right to trial by jury. These policies won praise from Margaret Thatcher who once declared 'I trust Jack Straw. He is a very fair man.' They were deemed excessively authoritarian by his former students' union, which in 2000 banned him from the building — a policy which lapsed in 2003. However, he also incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, abolished the death penalty and pressed for action on institutionalised racism in the police revealed by the Stephen Lawrence case.

In March 2000, Jack Straw was responsible for allowing General Augusto Pinochet to return to Chile. There were requests from several countries for Pinochet to be extradited and face trial for crimes against humanity. Pinochet was placed under house arrest in Britain while appealing the legal authority of the Spanish and British courts to try him, but Straw eventually ordered his release on medical grounds before a trial could begin, and Pinochet returned to Chile.

Also in 2000, Straw turned down an asylum request from a man fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime, stating "we have faith in the integrity of the Iraqi judicial process and that you should have no concerns if you haven’t done anything wrong."

He was the last Home Secretary to have all the traditional powers of that office, as following the 2001 general election, the government began transferring all non-law and order responsibilities to other departments.

Foreign Secretary

He was instead appointed Foreign Secretary to succeed Robin Cook. Within months Straw was confronted by the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. He was initially seen as taking a back seat to Tony Blair in the UK Government's prosecution of the "war against terrorism".

In the 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup d'état attempt, Jack Straw was personally informed with months in advance of the plans for the takeover attempt and failed to accomplish the duty under international law of alerting that African country government. The involvement of British oil companies in the funding of the coup d'état, and the changing of British citizens evacuation plans for Equatorial Guinea before the attempt posed serious challenges for the alleged ignorance of the situation. Later on, British officials and Jack Straw were forced to apologize to The Observer after categorically denying they had prior knowledge of the coup plot.

In the run up to the 2005 general election Straw faced a potential backlash from his Muslim constituents over the Iraq War – the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC) attempted to capitalise on anti-war sentiment with 'operation Muslim vote' in Blackburn. In addition, Craig Murray, who had been pushed out of his job as ambassador to Uzbekistan, stood against his former boss (Straw was head of the FCO) on a platform opposing the use of information gathered under torture in the "War on Terror". Straw's vote fell by 20% compared to the previous general election in 2001 (21,808 to 17,562). Nonetheless, he was re-elected. Speaking moments after his re-election during the BBC's election night coverage, Straw called MPAC an 'egregious group' and expressed disappointment at its campaign tactics, which he saw as overly aggressive. Straw enjoys a reputation for involved local campaigning in his constituency despite his cabinet post, often spending many hours in the run up to elections literally standing on a soapbox in a high street area taking questions from the crowd and responding to criticism with a microphone Fact|date=March 2007.

On 13 October 2005 Straw took questions from a public panel of (mostly anti-war) Fact|date=March 2007 individuals in a BBC "Newsnight" television special on the subject of Iraq, addressing widespread public concerns about the exit strategy for British troops, the Iraqi insurgency and, inevitably, the moral legitimacy of the war. On several occasions Straw reiterated his position that the decision to invade was in his opinion the right thing to do, but said he did not 'know' for certain that this was the case. He said he understood why public opinion on several matters might differ from his own — a Newsnight/ICM poll showed over 70% of respondents believed the war in Iraq to have increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, but Straw said he could not agree based on the information presented to him.

In February 2006, Straw attracted publicity after he condemned the publication of cartoons picturing Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.cite web | url = http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/03/world/main1277068_page2.shtml | title =U.S.: Muhammad Cartoon 'Offensive'|publisher=CBS news|accessdate = 2007-06-18]

In April 2006, reports of secret White House plans to target Iranian nuclear installations with bunker busting nuclear bombs was described by Jack Straw as "completely nuts".Fact|date=June 2007

In August 2006, it was claimed by William Rees-Mogg in "The Times" that there was evidence that Straw was removed from this post upon the request of the Bush administration, possibly due to his expressed opposition to bombing Iran. [cite web|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2301799,00.html|title=How the US fired Jack Straw|publisher=timesonline.co.uk|date=2006-08-07|accessdate=2006-08-14]

It has also been alleged that another factor in his dismissal was the large number of Muslims amongst Straw's Blackburn constituents, supposedly considered a cause for concern by the US. [cite web|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1839938,00.html|title=With extreme prejudice|publisher=Guardian Online] Some Iranian dissidents mocked Straw as "Ayatollah Straw" after his frequent visits to Tehran in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks.cite web | url = http://www.iranfocus.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=89 | title = Teheran two-times Straw by backing both sides|publisher=Iran Focus|accessdate=2007-06-18]

Leader of the House of Commons

After the Labour Party suffered major defeats in local elections on 4 May 2006, losing 317 seats in balloting for 176 councils, Tony Blair acted the following day with a major reshuffle of his ministers during which he moved Straw from Foreign Secretary to Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal. Straw had apparently requested a break from high ministerial office after serving in two of the four great departments of state for nearly ten years. Straw's close relationship with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was said to have 'infuriated' Number 10,Fact|date=July 2007 with particular reference to her visit to Straw's Blackburn constituency which caused significant organisational difficulties. It is believed that Straw's public opposition to potential military actions in Iran during his tenure as Foreign Secretary was one of the main reasons behind his demotion Fact|date=March 2007. To lessen the apparent demotion, Blair gave Straw responsibility for House of Lords reform and party funding, issues which had been part of the portfolio of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. In addition, Straw was given the chairmanship of the Constitutional Affairs cabinet committee. [cite news|title=Clarke sacked in major cabinet reshuffle |url=http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,,1768251,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|date=2006-05-05|accessdate=2006-05-05]

On 25 March 2007, Straw announced he was to run Gordon Brown's campaign for the Labour leadership. This was the first official confirmation the Chancellor would stand. [cite news|title=Straw to run Brown leadership bid|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6492417.stm|publisher=BBC News|date=2007-03-25|accessdate=2007-03-25]

2006 debate over veils

In October 2006 Straw attracted controversy by suggesting to a local newspaper, "The Lancashire Evening Telegraph", that Muslim women who wear veils that cover their faces (the "niqab") can inhibit inter-community relations, though he denied the issue was raised for political gain, stating that he had raised it in private circles in the past and it had never progressed beyond discussions. Although he did not support a law banning a woman's right to choose to wear the veil, he would like them to abandon it all together. Asked whether he would prefer veils to be abolished completely, Straw said: "Yes. It needs to be made clear I am not talking about being prescriptive but with all the caveats, yes, I would rather." [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/5413470.stm In quotes: Jack Straw on the veil] - BBC News. 6 October 2006] He said that he had asked women visiting his constituency surgeries to consider uncovering their noses and mouths in order to allow better communication. He claimed that no women had ever chosen to wear a full-veil after this request.cite web | url = http://www.blackburncitizen.co.uk/news/newsheadlines/display.var.954145.0.straw_in_plea_to_muslim_women_take_off_your_veils.php | title = Straw in plea to Muslim women: Take off your veils| accessdate = 2007-06-18 | publisher =The Blackburn, Darwen And Hyndburn Citizen ] cite web | url = http://www.gm.tv/index.cfm?articleid=22773 | title = Muslim veil row|publisher=GMTV|accessdate=2007-06-18] [cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/5410472.stm|publisher=BBC News|title="Straw's veil comments spark anger"] However, given that he is known to suffer from tinnitus (which compromises the ability to hear), it is possible that he requested the veil to be removed so that he could lip-read the woman.

Straw's comments kicked off a wide-ranging and sometimes harshly worded debate within British politics and the media; Straw was supported by some establishment figures and castigated by others, including Muslim groups. There is debate within the Muslim community whether the Qur'an and "hadith" (traditions of Muhammad) require the use of the full face veil, see sartorial hijab.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Straw was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Justice on the first full day of Gordon Brown's ministry, 28 June 2007. He is the first ever Lord Chancellor to serve in the role whilst a member of the House of Commons. His appointment means that he will continue to be a major figure in the Labour Government. Only Straw, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have served in the cabinet continuously since Labour's administration began in May 1997.

Personal life

Straw's first marriage ended in divorce in the mid-1970s. In 1978 he married Alice Perkins, a senior Civil Servant. [cite news|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1314756/Cabinet's-own-marriage-failures-force-retreat-on-traditional-wedlock.html|title=Cabinet's own marriage failures force retreat on traditional wedlock|author=Joe Murphy|date=19 Jun 2001|publisher=Daily Telegraph|accessdate=2008-08-02] In 2006 Straw's wife joined the board of the country's largest airports operator BAA, shortly before it was taken over by the Spanish firm Ferrovial. [cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2006/aug/20/businesscomment.theairlineindustry|title=Couldn't BAA have come up with a contingency plan?|author=Richard Wachman|date=20 August 2006|publisher=The Observer|accessdate=2008-08-02]

Straw suffers from tinnitus. [cite web|url=http://www.4hearingloss.com/archives/2006/05/hoping_for_the.html|title=Hoping for the sound of silence]


Author or co-author

*"Implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998: Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 14 March 2001" (2001) ISBN 0-10-442701-9
*"Making Prisons Work: Prison Reform Trust Annual Lecture" (1998) ISBN 0-946209-44-8
*"Future of Policing and Criminal Justice (Institute of Police & Criminological Studies Occasional Paper S.)" (1996) ISBN 1-86137-087-3
*"Policy and Ideology" (1993) ISBN 0-9521163-0-8


*"Reform of the Race Relations Act 1976: Proposals for Change Submitted by the Commission for Racial Equality to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department, on 30 April 1998" (1998) ISBN 1-85442-210-3


External links

* [http://www.jackstrawmp.org.uk/ Jack Straw official website]
* [http://www.leeds.ac.uk/reporter/may68 Online exhibition of the May 1968 student protest in Leeds]
* [http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/page1381.asp 10 Downing Street - Jack John Whitaker Straw]
* [http://politics.guardian.co.uk/person/0,9290,-5038,00.html Guardian Unlimited Politics - Ask Aristotle: Jack Straw MP]
* [http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/jack_straw/blackburn TheyWorkForYou.com - Jack Straw MP]
* [http://dmoz.org/Regional/Europe/United_Kingdom/Society_and_Culture/Politics/Parties/Labour/MPs/Straw,_Jack/ Open Directory Project - "Jack Straw"] directory category
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/archive/2333595.stm BBC Newsnight: Jack Straw]
-! colspan="3" style="background: #ccffcc;" | Order of precedence in Northern Ireland

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