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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Profile of Jack Straw

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Straw will have to fight the peace
Tony Blair may have won the plaudits for the victory in Iraq - but it will be his Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who will be in the lead in forging the peace.

It will be Mr Straw who will do much of the diplomatic donkey work aimed at helping move Iraq from near anarchy to democratic self rule.

It will be a punishing and hugely sensitive task. But the foreign secretary has shown he is probably up to the pace.

By most measures, he had a good war. There was a wobble at the start when he started bandying about odds on the likelihood of war.

That irritated his boss, but he quickly recovered and went on to deftly handle the government's bid for a second UN resolution sanctioning the conflict.

He failed. But that is not being laid at his door. Indeed he managed to retain fairly good relations with his French counterpart, despite their public spat.

And, while Tony Blair has appeared worn and stressed by the war, the foreign secretary sometimes appeared to be thriving on the furious pace.

Left-wing past

His career as foreign secretary, the job he won from Robin Cook - now the leading anti-war rebel - may not have initially glittered.

Jack Straw in 1972
Student leader: Rose to prominence in 1968
But he has gradually gained the respect of many of his opposite numbers for his steady hand.

He cuts a very different image from the hard man image he loved to portray in his previous job as home secretary.

He has even shrugged off revelations about his left-wing past - including that infamous trip to to Chile as a student. He insists he was not there to sit at the feet of Marxist opposition leader Salvador Allende.

Recently released official papers show British diplomats were so concerned with the young Straw at the time, that they cabled London to warn foreign office officials that their future boss was a "troublemaker... acting with malice aforethought".

Ironically his toughest moment as home secretary came three years ago after his decision not to extradite the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, to Spain to face charges of torture and violation of human rights.

Instead Straw allowed him to return home on health grounds.

Radical unrest

Despite his current Labour right-wing credentials, Mr Straw comes from a left-wing family, though he was sent to the private Brentwood school in Essex.

His great grandfather took part in the battle against removal of common land from villagers; his grandfather was a Labour activist, his pacifist father avoided military service during World War II as a conscientious objector and his mother was also a socialist and pacifist.

At the age of 14 he joined the Labour Party and by 1969, with a law degree from Leeds University behind him, he became the left-wing leader of the National Union of Students at the height of radical unrest on Britain's campuses.

In 1974, the then-social services secretary Barbara Castle took him on as an adviser and he inherited her Blackburn parliamentary seat in 1979.

Mr Straw rapidly moved into the Neil Kinnock camp and later, through the long years of opposition in the 1980s and 1990s, completed his journey to the right - spending three years as a Blairite shadow home secretary.

On taking the real job with Labour's first landslide in 1997, he was soon being attacked by the left as illiberal for his zero tolerance of "winos, addicts and squeegee merchants".

Leader?

But after his own brush with youth crime, when it was revealed his 17-year old son had sold cannabis to a newspaper reporter, he gained great public sympathy.

He took his son to the police station to face up to his crime and was painted as a typical father trying to do the best for his child.

After all that, the job of foreign secretary may have looked like a step back from the spotlight.

Thanks to the war in Iraq that has not proved to be the case.

But there appears something more relaxed about Mr Straw nowadays than during previous years.

Maybe that is helped by the persistent rumours that he is still the man many want to see take over from Tony Blair, when that time comes.




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