SQUARE PEG

When asked how long is a piece of string, my late father, much exercised by home spun homilies, replied: “Too short to be of any use, and too long to throw away.”

With this in mind, my thoughts turn to Jack Straw, the Member of Parliament for Blackburn, and one of only three to have served continuously in cabinet since Labour came to power in 1997.

I find that an astonishing statistic, given his lack of political acumen, but as they say, the Labour Party is a broad church with room for all comers, as Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock would testify.

Another astonishing statistic for such an under achiever is the fact that he has occupied two of the highest posts in government within the gift of the Prime Minister to bestow, namely Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and he and I both struggle to think of anything he did to mark his card for posterity.

No, that’s not quite fair. One moment de verité springs to mind. He once observed that when Muslim women come to his surgery for advice, dressed from head to toe in some enormous bell tent, he would prefer it if they exposed themselves. Or I think that’s what he said.

In 2007, after a spell as Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw took the newly created post of Justice Secretary, and after some political trimming into the wind, also took over the responsibilities of Lord High Chancellor.

Given his track record, Jack Straw falls into the category of “good egg.” You know the type. Not good enough to make the team on merit, but generally a nice guy, and good enough to bring on the orange segments at half time, and make himself useful by refilling water bottles. So throughout his political career, it’s been a case of finding a job for Jack, even though, sadly, he’s a square peg in a round hole.

His time as Justice Secretary, where he is likely to remain until the General Election, has been a disappointment, even by his own modest standards. Most recently, he has fallen foul of the Chairman of the Parole Board, who described his decision to block the release of Ronnie Biggs as “irrational.” I suspect this was the last “straw” for Jack, who has now relinquished this remaining power, and not before time.

Eighteen months ago, in the Divisional Court, their lordships expressed concern about the independence of the Parole Board, given the right of the Justice Secretary to interfere in their decisions and override them. Their lordships expressed the opinion that confidence in the whole parole system could be undermined if this remained the case, an opinion echoed by the Chairman. He stated unequivocally that public trust in decisions concerning the release of prisoners could be undermined because of the political element involved.

There is more than enough concern expressed by the public over the early release of prisoners, especially by victims of crime and their relatives. But just as the emotive element should play no part in crime and punishment, by the same token it is in the public interest that the independence of the Parole Board is asserted without political interference.

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david

David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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