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From Essex boy to 'Mr Blackburn' looking back at Jack Straw's career
Jack Straw’s announcement last night that he would not fight the next General Election took most people by surprise. Local government reporter Bill Jacobs has covered the Essex boy who became ‘Mr Blackburn’ both at Westminster and in the town for more than 20 years.
Here he assesses Jack’s career and achievements.
I always wondered how this most human statesman was renowned for his being a hard political operator when the chips are down.
It was just one contradiction about the Essex council estate boy who became one of the 'great and good'.
When a student activist he came to the notice of Britain’s secret services, yet ended up running it.
Many could not see how the son of a conscientious objector helped take the West to war in Iraq and was never seduced by the ‘Ban the Bomb’ culture of the 1970s.
Jack was often seen as a 'favourite' of the Asian community yet during the 2005 General Election he had to survive a furious onslaught from Muslim activists for his alleged ‘crimes against Islam’.
I always saw something ‘grounded’ about him and maybe his humble background gave him a working-class heart that beat well in Blackburn.
When advised to make cosmetic appearances at Ewood Park it wasn’t long before the MP became a genuinely passionate Blackburn Rovers supporter with two equally fanatical children.
Joining the corps of ambitious young Labour aides as political adviser to Barbara Castle in 1974 proved a turning point.
She introduced him to Blackburn, which he won in 1979 against the Thatcher tide, providing the springboard to an unexpectedly glittering career.
The two years before then were personally difficult as his first marriage collapsed in the wake of his daughter Rachel's death aged five days and he remarried a year later.
Perhaps only his parents splitting when he was 10 and his son Will's 'drugs bust' embarrassment in 1997 matched these domestic problems.
Yet even then as the new Home Secretary he remained direct and honest when I tackled him on every prominent parent’s nightmare.
His upbringing on a council estate by his beloved mother Joan stood him good stead when he came to represent this Lancashire mill town.
So too did the 'guile and cunning' that Lady Castle had spotted.
Her lesson that his 'job' was MP for Blackburn and high office a bonus was learned as local Labour stalwarts persuaded him being seen in the pub (not his natural home) and watching Rovers would make him popular and win votes.
He not only became a football fan but found speaking on a soap box in the town centre and holding regular, sometimes rowdy, public meetings wove him into his adopted mill town.
Jack threw himself not just into the football culture but into fighting for his constituency.
He rates his battle to ensure the M65 connected Blackburn to Preston and the national motorway network, not just Burnley and Colne in 1990, among his greatest political achievements.
The 20-year fight to get the new hospital in 2006, his efforts to boost housing and jobs in the town, and his recent success in securing a half-hourly service to Manchester show how tenacious he is.
Another long battle - to get Blackburn with Darwen independence from Lancashire County Council - pitted him against Labour colleagues and a Tory government. He won and one opponent, county leader Louise Ellman, never reached the heights predicted for her when she became a Labour MP.
Being an enemy of Jack’s was always considered a major handicap at Westminster as I observed on many occasions. I also saw he was a good friend and influential supporter.
In 2005, his role in the invasion of Iraq came back to haunt him as the formidable Muslim Public Affairs Committee arrived to topple the 'Zionist'.
Mr Straw had long-championed Blackburn's Asian heritage community playing a full part in local politics and this paid off as its leaders backed him. That and some furious street pounding, door knocking and pulling in of favours.
As Home Secretary he was more administrator than visionary, telling me loved the detail of running a department.
He commissioned the Macpherson report into Stephen Lawrence's murder, changing policing forever.
His Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, dreamt up with a Blackburn 'family from Hell' in mind, changed our justice system. Despite Tory derision, the council estate boy’s ASBOs are increasingly used and remain on the statute book.
Mr Straw rarely ducked conflict as French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin found out at the United Nations in 2003 when he was subjected to a memorable attack over Paris's prevarication on Iraq.
Liberal Democrats, Lancashire County Council and enthusiastic pro-Europeans suffered political combat.
In roles of grandfather and elder statesman, Mr Straw can feel the boy from Buckhurst Hill has done well.
Blackburn hasn't done too badly either.
The town will miss him keenly as will I.
We have had a few spats over the years but I consider him a friend and one of the best and most effective politicians I have ever reported on.
That is as a contact, constituency MP, cabinet minister and human being - a rare and formidable combination.
1946 - Born to couple living on council estate in Essex. Father left home when he was 10.
1968 – Married teacher Anthea Watson. One daughter who died as an infant. Divorced 1977.
1969 - Elected president of National Union of Students.
1974 – Appointed political adviser to Cabinet Minister Barbara Castle.
1978 – Married civil servant Alice Perkins. One son William, one daughter Charlotte.
1979 – Elected as MP for Blackburn.
1981 – Goes deaf in one ear after an infection.
1987 – Appointed to Shadow Cabinet as education spokesman; 1994 takes Home Office brief.
1997 – Made Home Secretary in Tony Blair's new Labour government. Son Will involved in supplying drugs to Daily Mirror reporter and marched to police station by dad.
2001 – Made Foreign Secretary after Robin Cook demoted.
2003 – Key figure in run-up to and aftermath of Iraq War against Saddam Hussein.
2005 – Survives backlash against his role in the conflict to win Blackburn again.
2006 – Demoted to Leader of the Commons.
2007 – Runs Gordon Brown's leadership campaign and rewarded with Lord Chancellorship.
2010 – Stands down from Labour front bench to allow new leader a 'fresh start'.
2013 – Becomes a grandfather twice in two days in September.
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