TOMORROW Jack Straw equals his famous predecessor Barbara Castle’s 33 years, 9 months and 27 days as Blackburn MP. Bill Jacobs speaks to him and assesses both of their careers as constituency MP and senior Westminster politicians.
JACK Straw paused before saying: “I think I am going to stand at the next General Election in 2015.
“Provided I am fit and healthy in mind and body.”
He seems stunned not at the question but the full realisation that tomorrow he will have been MP longer than his mentor Barbara Castle - one of the great figures of 20th Century politics.
He’s cooking his chicken at his modest flat in Blackburn between constituency surgeries and collecting wife Alice off the London train at Preston as the impact dawns.
He said: “Goodness, I never thought I would last longer than Barbara. She was an immense political figure both in Blackburn and nationally. She would have made a great first woman Prime Minister.
“She came to Blackburn in 1945 and got the money needed to rebuild the town’s economy. It was in a dire state after the war, starved of investment with the cotton industry collapsing. She helped rebuild local industry, create jobs and build new the houses needed at the time.
“She changed the town for the better.”
Mr Straw was not surprised she quit Parliament after being sacked from the cabinet but he was surprised when told that she wanted him to take over.
He had tried for several winnable seats after fighting a hopeless campaign in Kent but, has no regrets about being MP for Blackburn: “I love being an MP and I love being MP for Blackburn.
“When I first thought of politics as a career aged 13, I thought I would end as MP in the South. Being MP for Blackburn has kept my feet on the ground even when in cabinet.
“In 1983 under Michael Foot, I really thought I would lose, and took to my soap box in the town centre so the election was about me and not about Labour.
“After that I kept it and grew to enjoy it although I get collywobbles before getting on it and a fair amount of abuse when I am.
“Most people think my big mistake was supporting the Iraq war, but while I regret the loss of life involved, I don’t regret the fall of Saddam. Had he still been there, Iraq would have been a killing field and the Middle East an even more unstable place.
“I am unreasonably in favour of anyone who lives in Blackburn. If I just favoured our South Asian community, as some suggest, I would not have backed the war or made my comments about the veil.”
His own biggest achievements? Bringing the M65 finally after a ten year delay to Blackburn in 1990 and making anti-social behaviour a political and police priority, an idea conceived with the town’s Superintendent Eddie Walsh because of problem families in the constituency.
Another pause, before he adds: “I am proud to have followed Barbara and exceeded her time as MP. I have tried to be a worthy successor to her.”
She has Barbara Castle Way named after her, what does he fancy: “I’ve no idea. It would be nice to be remembered but they normally do that after you’re dead, so I’ll leave it to others.”
Born: August 3 1946 in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.
Educated: Brentwood School; Leeds University.
Personal life: Married twice. Two children, William and Charlotte, by second marriage to Alice in 1978.
Occupation: barrister, political researcher.
Blackburn MP: May 3 1979 to now.
Elections won: Eight.
Cabinet jobs: Four - Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the Commons, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.
Achievement as MP: Bringing the M65 to Blackburn in 1990 and linking the town and East Lancashire to the motorway network.
Achievement at Cabinet Minister: Putting anti-social behaviour on the political and policing agenda as Home Secretary in 1997.
Worst moments: The 1983 Labour ‘suicide note’ and 2005 post-Iraq invasion elections when he expected to lose his seat.
Books: Autobiography: Last Man Standing.
Born: October 6th 1910 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Died: May 3 2002.
Educated: Bradford Girls Grammar School; St Hugh’s College Oxford.
Personal life: Married to Ted from 1944 to 1979. No children.
Occupation: Daily Mirror journalist.
Blackburn MP: July 5 1945 to April 7 1979 Elections won: 10: Cabinet jobs: Four - Overseas Development Secretary; Transport Secretary; Employment Secretary and First Secretary of State; Social Services Secretary.
Achievement as MP: Winning the investment to rebuild Blackburn’s industry and housing after World War Two as the cotton industry collapsed.
Achievement at Cabinet Minister: Introducing the breathalyser as Transport Secretary in October 1967, launching the campaign against drink driving.
Worst moment: Being unexpectedly sacked from the cabinet by new Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in April 1976.
Books: The Castle Diaries.