Jack Straw (politician)

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Jack Straw

The Right Honourable John Whitaker "Jack" Straw (born August 3, 1946) is a British Labour Party politician. He was Home Secretary from 1997-2001, becoming Foreign Secretary after the 2001 UK general election. He has been the Member of Parliament for Blackburn since 1979.



Born in Essex, and brought up by a single mother on a council estate, he was educated at Brentwood School (where he took the name "Jack" after the 14th century peasant leader Jack Straw) and the University of Leeds. During his time at Leeds he was elected president of the students' union with the support of the broad left, including Liberal, Socialist and (what remained of) the Communist Societies. He subsequently became President of the National Union of Students. He was regarded as a radical on issues of social equality and race, though he opposed drugs. He qualified as a barrister and practised criminal law before becoming a political adviser to Labour ministers in 1974-77 and then a television journalist.

He is the member of parliament for Blackburn, a seat he won after the retirement in 1979 of Barbara Castle, for whom he had worked as a political advisor when she was social security minister, and is honorary president of Blackburn Rovers F.C.. In the 1980s, he was an opposition spokesman on economic affairs and later on the environment before becoming Shadow Education Secretary in 1987, Shadow Environment Secretary in 1992 and eventually Shadow Home Secretary.

As Shadow Education Secretary, 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.

As Shadow Home Secretary between 1994 and 1997, he was at pains not to allow the Labour Party to be painted as "soft on crime", and developed a reputation as being even more authoritarian than the Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard, condemning "aggressive beggars, winos and squeegee merchants" and calling for a curfew on children.

In office after the 1997 UK 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. However, he also incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law and pressed for action on institutionalised racism in the police revealed by the Stephen Lawrence case. He was embarrassed by newspaper revelations that his teenaged son Will Straw was dealing cannabis. William was cautioned by police after his father turned him in.

Expected to become Transport Secretary after the 2001 UK general election, he was surprisingly made Foreign Secretary, and was almost immediately confronted by the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks. With little experience of foreign affairs, he was initially seen as taking a back seat to Tony Blair in the war against terrorism. According to polls, Straw is - along with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Prescott - one of the few British government ministers who is recognised by a majority of the British public.

On November 26 2003, he made an unannounced visit to Iraq.

Partial bibliography

Author or co-author

  • Implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998: Minutes of Evidence,Wednesday 14 March 2001 (2001) ISBN 0104427019
  • Making Prisons Work: Prison Reform Trust Annual Lecture (1998) ISBN 0946209448
  • Future of Policing and Criminal Justice (Institute of Police & Criminological Studies Occasional Paper S.) (1996) ISBN 1861370873
  • Policy and Ideology (1993) ISBN 0952116308


  • 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 30th April 1998 (1998) ISBN 1854422103

External links

Preceded by:
Michael Howard
Home Secretary
Succeeded by:
David Blunkett
Preceded by:
Robin Cook
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
Current Incumbent

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