His gift for dodging responsibility verges on genius. Time and time again the hand of censure has brushed his collar, and each time he has slipped it and vanished into the night. Over his complicity as Foreign Secretary in the rendition and subsequent torture of terrorist suspects, he escaped by the skin of his teeth. What deniability he had – and his story changed, in the most legalistic of language, after an initial blanket denial – rested entirely on being given the benefit of a gigantic doubt that he never asked the most obvious questions, or turned his deaf ear to the answers if he did. As Martin Bright wrote in the Independent on Sunday, his self-alleged lack of curiosity about the outsourced torture of British nationals is astonishing.I've had a few run-ins with Straw myself. Indeed it was his outrageous evasion and pompous bullying of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2003 that led me to look into the whole Iraq dossier thing. But this is pretty strong stuff.
The man's entire career serves as a gruesome paradigm of the poverty and enfeeblement of Westminster politics. The granddaddy of the professional politician, he blazed the trail so well worn now by gliding seamlessly from leftie student activist to legal qualification to unelected adviser to MP to Cabinet member, quietly jettisoning every belief he once professed along the way to speed the journey.
The one thing we can be sure Mr Straw believes in is Mr Straw. His ambition is unquenchable. When his one serious mistake (deflecting transatlantic glory from Mr Tony Blair by cuddling up to Condi Rice) cost him the Foreign Office, he accepted humiliating demotion just to stay in the game. His transfer of allegiance from Blair to Brown, whose leadership "campaign" he managed (and hats off for winning that one), was comical in its fervency. Even now, be sure that he is scheming to position himself as the Jim Hacker compromise candidate should Labour somehow locate the energy required to ditch the PM.
Tragically, there would be worse electoral choices. As viewers doubtless observed on BBC1 last night, he is adept at promoting an image of calmly authoritative blandness, hence his comparative popularity, and a grandmaster of televisual smoothness. He is as slimy as an oil slick, and always quick to move on once he's coated the vulnerable birdies with filthy tar.
An utter disgrace to every high office he has held, Jack Straw has, typically enough, evaded the widespread loathing attracted by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell and the rest, despite being one of only three ministers to remain in the Cabinet since 1997. In an all-star team containing Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Zidane, only the more obsessive fan would notice Patrick Vieira unflamboyantly putting in the hard work in defensive midfield.
But viscerally loathed he should be, for the damage he has done us in the cause of personal ambition, and for the damage he hopes to do yet by bringing this pernicious law back to the Commons. Perhaps in time he will be. A painful inquest into the death of New Labour approaches, and whatever Jack Straw's feelings on the matter this one will be held in public.
Friday, 23 October 2009
Straw blown away
In the Independent, Matthew Norman launches a devastating attack on Jack Straw, his anger sparked by renewed attempts to bring in secret coroner's inquests: