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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Labour leadership
On Sunday Sunday 25 March, Andrew Marr interviewed Jack Straw MP, Leader of the House of Commons

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Jack Straw MP
Jack Straw MP, Leader of the House of Commons

ANDREW MARR: Welcome to you ..

JACK STRAW: Thank you.

ANDREW MARR: .. Mr Straw. Let's start with that.

There's no doubt that it's been a rough few days for Mr Brown in the papers. First of all there was Andrew Turnbull describing him as a Stalinist and all the jokes about that.

But also, perhaps more significant, some, some very poor opinion polls when people are asked if they would back a Brown led Labour government. JACK STRAW: Well I don't quite have that interpretation about it. For sure the opinion polls are not particularly good.

But these are mid term polls. And I cast my mind back cos I'm, can remember this, to the fact that we were ahead in polls in nineteen eighty one. The Conservatives were third.

We were ahead again in nineteen eighty six brilliantly, in the early part of eighty six. Both occasions the Conservatives went on to win the following elections. And we were also very much ahead in the late eighties and early nineties.

But again the Conservatives went on to win the nineteen ninety two election. And when it comes to the election, when it comes to Gordon Brown's premiership, what people will be comparing is somebody both of huge experience who's helped to transform this country into a better, fairer and more prosperous place, but also has vision to deal with the new challenges of the age, not just the old ones, compared with albeit a perfectly pleasant but rather youthful and untried Conservative leadership. And the other problem about, it's not just their youth which in a sense may be a merit, but it is they keep making promises which literally do not add up.

And I, if I can offer some avuncular advice to the Conservatives which I do, in the spirit of generosity, it is that as they go on they say on the one hand they're going to cut taxation, they're going to do things very differently from Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, but they're going to cut taxation. What are they going to do about public spending? Because what people forget - if I may just make this point - is that it's not accidental that this country is now so much more prosperous than it was ten years ago and so much fairer.

It's as a result of the combined leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Now just cast your mind back to the late eighties, early nineteen nineties. John Major and Norman Lamont allowed the public spending to go out of control and the result of that, was a couple of years later, the public borrowing rose to forty six billion pounds, seven per cent ..


JACK STRAW: .. of GDP, about a hundred billion today.


JACK STRAW: So that's one of the ..


JACK STRAW: .. major differences.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. You're going to, to run his campaign. You're talking as if he's already won it.

JACK STRAW: Well no, no ..

ANDREW MARR: Well you talk about him ..


ANDREW MARR: .. when he becomes prime minister. What manner of campaign is this going to be? Because at the moment it's perfectly possible that he's going to jump into the ring with his boxing gloves on and there's going to be absolutely nobody in front of him.

JACK STRAW: Well what's crucial is that if there is a leadership election which there will be for sure because Tony has said that he's going to go, that this is an opportunity for however many candidates they are, to as it were renew the Labour Party, renew the relationship between the Labour Party, the Labour government and the electorate. And what we'll see, whether there's one candidate, two, three or four ..


JACK STRAW: Allow me just to finish.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah. Yeah.

JACK STRAW: What we will see is Gordon reaching out to the Labour Party, reaching out to members of the parliamentary party and to the electorate and making it very, very inclusive.

And it is very striking that in the twelve hours since my letter went out electronically to members of the parliamentary party I've had very, very positive responses from a very broad spectrum of the parliamentary party, from left and right, from all the regions, from those who are very senior in the Party to those who are new members. And I think we'll see in the coming weeks this broad base being built up. But meanwhile the number one priority is the May elections.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. As you check your inbox I wonder if the supportive messages include one from David Miliband who's being touted in today's papers as somebody that Tony Blair would like to see succeed him or thinks could still succeed him.

JACK STRAW: Well I've seen that story. What is not mentioned quite as much is the fact that Downing Street have dismissed it as completely untrue. I mean full stop. I think it's completely untrue. David has been very complimentary not only about Tony Blair but also about Gordon Brown. And so ..

ANDREW MARR: He's still, he's thinking about it though isn't he? Do you think he's thinking about it?

JACK STRAW: I can't - I can tell you about Gordon Brown, I can tell you about myself. But I can tell you that story is not true. And David has a very, is making a very important contribution to the current cabinet and I'm sure will do in the future.

ANDREW MARR: I'm just trying to get my head around the idea of a contest, a campaign with, between Gordon Brown and absolutely nobody.


ANDREW MARR: And it's going to look like a bit of a stitch up if that happens isn't it?

JACK STRAW: No, ... a stitch up. I mean what it will show is that there is extraordinary support for Gordon Brown. This is, anybody can stand in these elections and if there is a contest that's absolutely fine and Gordon's made that clear all the way through.

At the same time the National Executive have said there'll be a seven week period at least following the, the local elections, seven weeks at least. And that's a good opportunity for Gordon to get round the country, for Gordon to talk to people, not only to Party members but also to people who are Party supporters and people who oppose us because ...

ANDREW MARR: Would it make your, would it make your job easier if there was a proper contest? Because there's two left wing, left of centre contenders, but they've got to get enough MPs before they can properly stand against Gordon Brown. Would it be better if there was a serious contender against him?

JACK STRAW: I'm entirely neutral if I may say so on that particular point. Let us make this clear. We are a democratic party. There, the rules are the same for Gordon as they are for anybody else. He requires at least forty five members of the parliamentary party to sign up and then has to win the election. And if other members of the parliamentary party get those forty five they're entitled to stand and there'll be an interesting contest.

ANDREW MARR: And the way the campaign's going to work, we're going to see a sort of banks of telephones and, and campaign headquarters and so on?

JACK STRAW: Well that depends obviously, that part... Yeah I mean that partly depends obviously on the extent to which there is ..

ANDREW MARR: ... campaign.

JACK STRAW: .. is a, is a contest. Btu there will certainly see, be a vigorous campaign by Gordon and those supporting him which, and the base will be very wide to ensure that we use this period, as I say, to renew the Labour Party's appeal to its own member and to the electorate. This has been an extraordinary period in the Labour Party, unparalleled under Tony Blair's leadership.

You refer to those opinion polls. People have got used to us. A good half of the population I guess can't remember when there wasn't a Labour government cos there's a collective amnesia has taken over about the That..., the, the Major period, so we're the establishment, it's easy to knock at us. On the other hand the people have to make serious decisions about who they have in government which they will at the general election.

ANDREW MARR: You think they'll go for Gordon?

JACK STRAW: They will but we must not take this for granted. Because no one should seek gratitude in politics. It's a huge privilege to serve, particularly at senior levels in government, and what we have to recognise is that the challenges of today are very different from those of ten years ago.

It's climate change, India and China, the fact we have to run very fast to keep up with our scientific and intellectual competition from abroad. And Gordon is really ahead on all of those as well as the, if you like the traditional issues of politics.

ANDREW MARR: Would you like to be his Chancellor of the Exchequer?

JACK STRAW: I am offering nothing to contribute to this speculation. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing.

ANDREW MARR: Just says it's the worst job in the world in one of the papers, but ..

JACK STRAW: People have said that about Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House, but anyway I'm very happy ...

ANDREW MARR: Ah, a succession of jobs ...

JACK STRAW: I'm very happy doing what I'm doing.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about a previous job, your time as Foreign Secretary ..


ANDREW MARR: .. where you went to Tehran five times, put a lot of effort ..


ANDREW MARR: .. in trying to create a dialogue which seems to have broken down almost entirely at the moment. What's your reading of the back story behind the seizing of these British soldiers?

JACK STRAW: Well the first thing to say is Margaret Beckett and David Triesman, Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office Minister, are working very hard indeed to try to secure the safe release of these fifteen brave sailors, men and one woman. And I don't want to say anything which can undermine those efforts. It requires some very careful and intense diplomacy.

As Margaret's made it clear, David has, the capture of these sailors was wholly unjustified and we wish to see them return and return very quickly and safely. As to the wider, the situation in Iran, well everybody knows that there was President Khatami, who was a reformist elected in nineteen eighty seven. He was there until two thousand and five. President Ahmadinejad was the kind of dark horse. He was the Mayor of Tehran.

ANDREW MARR: You've met him haven't you?

JACK STRAW: I met him. Kofi Anan arranged for the European three - France, Germany and the United Kingdom foreign ministers to meet him and his colleague, Aly... Rajani at the Untied Nations in September two thousand and five. I mean he is a different kettle of fish from his predecessors. He would say that that is his attraction to many voters inside Iran. What is crucial and what I ..

ANDREW MARR: He's been portrayed in America in particular but also sometimes here as a kind of mad dog of some kind isn't he?

JACK STRAW: Well I'm not contributing to that kind of description. It is certainly the case that he, he has said things which are completely unacceptable so far as the position of Israel is concerned. And what I say to my many Iranian friends is that they have to understand that they work in a, a world environment and for example decisions which they make and the atmosphere they create contributes for example to the reception they receive in the United Nations. And it's ..


JACK STRAW: .. you know, last night the United Nations Security Council decided again on a strengthening and roll over of Resolution 1737 so they need to think about that.

ANDREW MARR: Is there any, is there anything at all that we can do if the - and the mood in Tehran seems to be very hard line at the moment. If these guys are paraded in public and it's announced that they're going to be put on trial, what can we do about this?

JACK STRAW: Well I don't want to contribute to that speculation. What's important is that we back all the diplomatic moves that are going on for their release. What I would also say however is that you often get stories like this. Two years ago, when some Royal Naval, Navy personnel, marines, were detained in rather similar circumstances there was quite a lot of speculation. We had to work very hard to get their safe, safe return.

That was on, on my watch. Can I just also say this, the situation ... relations with Iran is complicated and it always has been. And the bad news is all the things we've been hearing. The slightly better news is the fact that you had these conversations taking place in Baghdad, between Iran, Syria, the United States and the United Kingdom and other coalition partners, because for sure Iran exists. It's eighty million people. It's flat bang in the Middle ..

ANDREW MARR: We can't, and we ...

JACK STRAW: .. in the Middle East and we have to have a relationship with them.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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