Macpherson Left Out

By Sion, Simon | The Spectator, March 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Macpherson Left Out


Sion, Simon, The Spectator


JACK Straw is not like the Prime Minister. With Mr Blair it is impossible to know what his real thoughts and feelings are. He is inscrutable. This leads many people to conclude - probably erroneously but to his detriment nevertheless - that he lacks the strong opinions and emotions that are nowadays expected of politicians. His enemies portray him as a feather in the wind. Yet it is always easy to predict what he will do. In the 22 months since he became Prime Minister, no single act of Blair's has surprised anyone who understands his authoritarian but ultra-cautious approach to strategy, his hyper-ambitious political project, and the relationship between them. On the euro, for instance, Blair was initially too cautious, having nearly lost the Welsh devolution referendum, to throw Britain into the first wave. But 18 months later, having tried every possible means to avoid it, he is becoming accustomed to the notion of defying the Sun. Within a year of the next election Britain will have joined, just as Mr Blair always wanted us to. You will never hear a truly definitive explanation of why, but it was always bound to happen.

With the Home Secretary, the reverse applies. He is a man whose core beliefs and attitudes are well known and easy to comprehend. He is, in the words of George W. Bush, a `compassionate Conservative'. As Home Secretary, Straw has taken an enormous Alexandrine axe to the Gordian knot within which 1970s sociology twisted itself around left-wing thinking about crime. More than even Blair himself, Straw has perfected an attitude which is the acceptable face of social conservatism. On any issue - squeegee merchants, curfews, prison ships, race, walk-on-by-ism, noisy neighbours, marijuana in the family and so on, ad nauseam Straw articulates the intuitive feelings of the most sensible, typical, ordinary person. It's what William `kitchen table' Hague might like to think of as the Home Secretary's political cucina casalinga.

That is why it is so strange that one never knows what he will do. In the case of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it was by no means certain that an incoming Jack Straw would set up a judicial inquiry as he had vainly urged his predecessor to do. Labour advocated many other things in opposition which it did not ultimately deem practical in government. In the event, though, the Lawrence inquiry was taken as an early sign that Straw was a liberal Home Secretary determined to put an end to the Tory practice of protecting a corrupt establishment at the expense of justice and a decent society.

Then he confounded that interpretation by appointing Sir William Macpherson of Cluny as chairman. An aristocratic former lieutenant-colonel in the territorial SAS, he had previously ruled in favour of the right of avowedly racist white parents to withdraw their children from classes with a high density of Asian children, and he refused applications for judicial review challenges in immigration cases unusually often. The Lawrence family complained to the Home Secretary that he was the wrong man for the job and that his appointment had destroyed their confidence in the inquiry.

When the report appeared last month, though, it was not the Lawrence family but the editor of the Daily Telegraph who was forced into the role of Disgusted of Canary Wharf. The reactionary judge came up with some startlingly liberal recommendations. …

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