Jack Straw memoirs - part 2: 'Death of our baby started my slide into depression' (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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Jack Straw memoirs - part 2: 'Death of our baby started my slide into depression'
The baby was born fit and well in February 1976. We named her Rachel.
Three days later she was rushed to a neonatal unit and given the best treatment available, but she became more and more distressed and died.
Her death was a terrible blow. The death of a child can sometimes bring the bereaved couple closer together. Sadly, in our case it pulled us apart.
It was I who initiated the separation.
For a while I had been working as political adviser to Barbara Castle, the Social Security Secretary in Harold Wilson’s government. In the next office to mine was a 25-year-old fast-track civil servant named Alice Perkins.
I got to know her well. But I was spoken for, and so was she. We were just good friends.
Just before Christmas 1976 our friendship turned into something much more. The affection I felt for her exploded into love. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, and I have.
The break-up of most marriages is a painful, messy business. Mine with Anthea was no exception. But she went on to meet someone else and to marry a man who provided the contentment and the children that had eluded us.
She and I remained on good terms until her untimely death from cancer in 2009.
I was selected as the Labour candidate for Blackburn, Barbara Castle’s old seat, in June 1977. Alice and I had been planning to marry anyway, and did so in November 1978.
The following year I was elected to Parliament. But Labour in opposition was a nightmare.
This existential crisis for the Labour Party was paralleled by an intensely personal crisis of my own. On a plane to Paris with Alice my right ear blocked, which I put down to the heavy cold and catarrh. But I found I couldn’t hear at all in my right ear. Instead, I had a disorientating cacophony of bells, bangs and whistles.
My doctor said it would clear up. But it didn’t. The hearing loss persisted. I was completely deaf in my right ear.
Fortunately for me, the infection did not spread. My left ear still functions. The tinnitus settled to a high-pitched whistle, which can be very distracting, but there’s nothing you can do except learn to live with it.
I was in a terrible state, worried about my health and my future. Suddenly, everything came to a head. For all my apparent success, I’d always been prone to ‘impostor syndrome’, the sense that I was not worthy and that everything I had achieved was bound to be taken away from me.
I now fell into a serious depression, accompanied by terrible nightmares.
Alice’s mother suggested it might help if I saw a psychoanalyst. I began going twice a week. Though the frequency with which I saw him tailed off after about ten years, I continue to see him occasionally.
I’m in no doubt that but for his help I would have found the challenges of my adult life very much more difficult.
Battling militant after '83 election disaster
- Photo: On the election trail in 1983
General election night 1983 was terrible. Our popular vote slumped to 27.6 per cent, just a squeak ahead of the SDP/Liberal Alliance.
At 209 seats, we were the smallest Parliamentary Labour Party since the war.
In Blackburn, however, we bucked the trend.
The election over, disciplinary hearings against the local Militant members resumed.
For Militant and its fellow travellers nationally, the ‘Blackburn Eight’ became a cause célèbre. They claimed it was a ‘witch-hunt’ before a ‘Star Chamber.’ A hearing was set for January 1984.
Party officers had wisely decided to keep confidential the list of members of the General Management Committee, who would decide the fate of these eight. Otherwise Militant would seek to nobble as many as they could.
Shortly before the key meeting, Eric Smith, the party chairman, was dozing when his doorbell rang.
It was Peter Harris, leader of the Blackburn branch of the Tendency – wearing Commando boots.
‘What do you want Harris?’ ‘The list of GMC members.’ ‘You can’t have it. We know what you’ll do with the names – go round and frighten people.’ ‘I’m staying here until I get it,’ replied Harris, putting his boot in the door. ‘And what are you going to do, Smith? Call the police?’ ‘No, Harris’. Eric paused. ‘Ian, get me the axe.’ Ian produced the hand axe the family used for firewood.
Harris departed, but the intimidation continued.
Eighty-three delegates attended the hearing. The powerful Liverpool branch of Militant sent over busloads of people to picket. They barged into the meeting itself and police had to be called.
The meeting voted by two to one to expel six of the eight ‘charged’. It made the national news, since there were few other local parties with the resources, or the officers, to take these insidious people on.
On 25 April 1984, the NEC voted to confirm the expulsions. It had been either us or them – literally.
- © Jack Straw 2012 – Extracted from Last Man Standing, published by Macmillan. Readers can order copies of Last Man Standing by Jack Straw from The Silverdell bookshop, 61 Poulton Street, Kirkham, PR4 2AJ (phone 01772 68344 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and get £4 off the rrp of £20 and free postage.