Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Straw Will Take a Pragmatic Line on European Policy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Straw Will Take a Pragmatic Line on European Policy

Article excerpt


JACK STRAW'S appointment as Foreign Secretary was undoubtedly the Prime Minister's boldest stroke in his Cabinet reshuffle. What, though, does it mean? The easy, conventional interpretation is that it makes an early entry into Europe's single currency less likely, for Robin Cook was (and for that matter still is) a euro-enthusiast, while Mr Straw is thought to be rather more sceptical.

A look at Mr Straw's past provides some clues as to what to expect. In the Seventies he was a special adviser to Barbara Castle, one of the ministers who fought for a "no" vote in the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the Common Market (as it then was). On succeeding Mrs Castle as MP for Blackburn in 1979 he gladly adopted her anti-European stance.

In May 1980, he successfully urged a special Labour conference to back withdrawal from the European Community. (It was the conference's decision that started the trail of events that led to Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and William Rodgers leaving Labour and forming the Social Democrats.) After Labour's catastrophic defeat in 1983, Mr Straw joined the campaign team of Peter Shore, the most anti-European of the candidates for the party leadership.

In short, Mr Straw has form as a Eurosceptic. Yet that is not the whole story. Others were anti-European then, but are different now.

Who watching the young Neil Kinnock berate Brussels in the Seventies would have predicted him ending up as Vice-President of the European Commission? In recent years Straw's front-bench responsibilities have involved little or nothing to do with Europe, so we have little to go on; but to assume that he retains anything like the same opinions as 20 years ago is, to say the least, unwise.

In fact, Mr Straw displayed some courage in rethinking his politics during Labour's dark years in the Eighties and early Nineties. In 1993 he became the first prominent Labour politician since Hugh Gaitskell to call publicly for the party to abandon its traditional Clause Four commitment to common ownership. …

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