Politics; There Is a Bull Market in Jack Straw Shares: The Foreign Secretary Has Become a Political Force. Will He Be a Good Deputy When Gordon Brown Is PM? or Even More?

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At his cabinet meeting on 22 April, Tony Blair apologised briefly for his handling of the U-turn on the European constitution. Then he paused, and added that he would prefer to confide in his senior colleagues without them later briefing the media. Every one knew who he had in mind.

Blair is feeling sore towards Jack Straw. He accepted the Foreign Secretary's argument about the need to change policy on the constitutional referendum, but, as one of the Prime Minister's aides put it: "Jack has not been shy about trying to take the credit for it."

Straw has become a political force to be reckoned with. The transformation has been sudden. He was promoted to the Foreign Office--to his and everyone's surprise--after the June 2001 election, with the sole purpose of executing the Prime Minister's will. After Robin Cook's tenure, Blair wanted fewer fireworks with Gordon Brown, especially over Europe. It was hoped that Straw would be a safe pair of hands.

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The top mandarins in King Charles Street were resigned to seeing the Foreign Secretary having to walk across the road to Downing Street for meetings with Sir David Manning, Blair's foreign policy chief, and not the other way round. Straw did not appear too resentful. After all, that was how things were done.

As he found his feet, so he began to stake out his own positions. The list of differences with Blair is long and significant. On the EU, Straw coined for himself the description "practical European"--not for him the high rhetoric on integration. On Israel and the Middle East, he has differed sharply, preferring a far less accommodating approach to Ariel Sharon. On the US, in his almost daily phone calls to his counterpart, Colin Powell, he has lamented the direction of Bush's policies in a way Blair and his people would not dare.

On Iraq, Straw has never been comfortable. He watched helplessly as Blair and Bush secretly agreed their agenda for war early in 2002. The failure to secure a second UN resolution caused him no little soul searching. His last-minute note to Blair on the eve of war, suggesting that UK forces not be sent into combat, came as no surprise to those in the know at the top in Downing Street and the Foreign Office.

Blair peremptorily dismissed Straw's concerns, giving him a choice--either to quit or to fall in behind. He chose the latter. Even then, he was unhappy about the lack of postwar planning for Iraq.

Last July, Straw briefed the BBC that weapons of mass destruction would probably not be found--a full six months before Blair was forced to admit the same. …