The former Home and Foreign Secretary in the last Labour government tackled an array of issues as he delivered the latest in the Vice Chancellor’s Public Policy Lecture series, including the government’s decisions to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He reflected on his 34-year career in politics. One of the anecdotes Mr Straw told the audience related to his departure from the Home Office and appointment as Foreign Secretary.
“When I decided to stand down as Home Secretary in 2001, I talked with John Prescott, who was then heading the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. We were in favour of swapping jobs, so I wrote a memorandum to Tony Blair.
“I then got a call on Election Day summoning all cabinet ministers to Downing Street at 11am the next day.
“After driving through the night from Blackburn, Tony saw me the next day and said he was not going to give me Prescott’s job, so I thought ‘Whatever’s coming next?’ He made me Foreign Secretary instead so I took a gasp and there was a brief expletive.
"He said ‘Don’t you want the job’? I said of course I wanted the job, but I was completely taken aback.”
The Blackburn MP, who also served as Leader of the House of Commons, conducted a Q&A session at the end of the lecture.
He answered questions about the Gulf and Falklands Wars, revealed his thoughts on the impact social media has had on traditional media and on democracy, and spoke about what he’ll miss when retiring from front-line politics at the 2015 general election.
Mr Straw said: “I will miss the comradeship and the ability to directly influence things. For example, if you know how to operate the system, even if you are in the opposition, and you think there is something wrong and it needs to be changed, you can start a campaign on it.”
University of Bedfordshire Vice Chancellor Bill Rammell, a MP until 2010 who served as Minister for Higher Education in the last Labour government,said: “Jack Straw’s commitment to Parliament and to parliamentary democracy has been unquestionable. I know of no other minister who has gained such respect as a parliamentarian, from right across the political divide.
“He has made a massive contribution to British politics.”
- Lined up to give Public Policy Lectures at the university early next year are broadcaster, barrister and Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy (January 27) and Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (February 5).