Magazine article The Spectator

Jack of All Tirades

Magazine article The Spectator

Jack of All Tirades

Article excerpt

JACK STRAW is the New Labourite that a certain breed of stout Tory secretly admires. He's smart in a grey sort of way, fills the prisons with the same guilt-free zeal as Michael Howard did, and marches his own son down to the police station when the boy goes through a druggy phase.

So there's Maximum Jack. But then there's Radical Jack too. Maximum Jack wants your kids under curfew by nine and will lop off parts of your right to trial by jury as soon as look at you. Radical Jack will be beavering away on ethnic-minority quotas or redefining racial crime.

Not that it's been a great week for the Home Secretary's improving causes with senior figures from the ethnic minorities berating Labour for playing the race card. But Straw is bullish. 'I refuse to accept the line that the Tories and Labour are a kind of Tweedledum and Tweedledee here. There is no equivalence. Labour and the Lib Dems have an OK record on race. The Tories are more divided. They have a right-wing element with some very reprehensible views. Their own shadow chancellor and the heir apparent comes out with a different line.'

Is he saying that Michael Portillo has `reprehensible views' because he refused to sign the Commission for Racial Equality document? 'I don't consider Portillo at all racist. But I can't see why someone wouldn't sign it. It struck me as uncontroversial.'

His own attempts to spread racial harmony have not been exactly untroubled. In the trial of two Leeds United players, Mr Justice Poole threw out the Macpherson recommendations on alleged racist motives in crimes. Since then we've seen the charge of racially aggravated assault applied to a playground spat, while the police in Bradford decided that fighting between white and Asian groups last week did not fall within the category.

Macpherson's definition - 'a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person' looks, in practice, highly unreliable. And shouldn't justice be colour-blind? `No,' says the Home Secretary. `Justice can't be colour-blind because some crime is racially motivated and that has to be recognised. Colour can be a crucial factor.' He concedes that there `may be distortions at the margins' and wavers significantly on one point: `If other people have alternative definitions [to Macpherson's] they think would work better, then we will look at them.'

Out of office, Radical Jack was intent on shrinking the monarchy. In a 1994 Fabian pamphlet, he called for a slimmed-down royal family `of five to six members'. In the wake of Sophie's faux pas, shouldn't the Firm have taken his advice to downsize rather earlier? A roar of self-conscious laughter follows. `That is an interesting subject. But I have nothing to add to the debate right now.' Is he a republican who has come round to the monarchist position? `Er, I don't think so.' So he's never been a republican? 'I don't think I have, though I can't say exactly what I thought when I was ten or 15.' If anyone does recall Jack being a republican at any point out of short trousers, could they please let us know?

He's itching to talk about asylum, because the message the government needs to spread is that it is under control, but the polls show the Tories making the running on an uncomfortable subject. …

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