PEOPLE AND POLITICIANS STILL FURTHER APART
Jack Straw has been an outstanding MP for Blackburn.
He worked hard for the constituency and was proud to show it off to the American Secretary of State CondoleezaRice in a 2006 visit which I reported on for the BBC. He represented all his constituents including the quarter of the electorate from an Asian background. His relations with them were robust enough that he could be frank about sensitive issues. Mr Straw said wearing veils could make community relations harder. He spoke of some Pakistani men “fizzing with testosterone” seeing white girls as “easy meat.” Even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, he kept in touch with people’s views in the old fashioned way: from a soap box outside the Town Hall of a Saturday.
So it was with dismay and astonishment that I read this week that the former Home and Foreign Secretary had fallen for a media sting. A trap by the way that has been practised time and again on parliamentarians. Hopefully our elected representatives will be less gullible when the next set of pretty Chinese ladies come calling.
Jack Straw denies any wrongdoing, says he has always obeyed the appropriate rules and may be cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. But in the meantime he ends his 36 years as an MP suspended by the Labour Party and in the words of the Wallasey Labour MP and Shadow Leader of the House has “serious questions to answer.”
Here are a few of them. Why did Jack Straw have his grubby conversation in his Commons office against the rules? He says it was because of time pressure. He had enough time afterwards to show his guests around the place. He went “under the radar” to change EU rules on behalf of a company, justifying it by saying this approach achieved results whereas a public campaign might not. The public are alienated from politics precisely because they sense they are shut out from what is really going on.
But the main problem thrown up by the behaviour of Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind is not to do with whether specific rules have been broken. Most of the British people will pay little attention to the detail. On the eve of a General Election many voters are turning to fringe parties disillusioned by years of revelations about politicians “on the make and on the take” (George Carman in the Hamilton case). Straw talking about getting £5000 for one speech and Rifkind feeling “entitled” to a standard of living related his professional background stokes the fires of resentment that people feel about the greed of some Westminster politicians.
Jack Straw clearly expected to go to the Lords. That will now be a tricky call for Ed Miliband.
CONSTITUENCY FOCUS: WIRRAL WEST.
Can the Conservatives hold on to their only Merseyside seat? Probably because of the profile of their MP, Esther McVey. The feisty former TV presenter and business woman is now a Minister of State and probably headed for the Cabinet. She finally won the constituency back from Labour in 2010 but with a majority of only 2436.
Labour candidate Margaret Greenwood will be drawing her strength from the wards on the edge of Birkenhead but McVey will be hoping that the middle class towns of Hoylake and West Kirby will support the Tories and not drift off to UKIP