A week ago I reported in Panorama that the leading Labour politician, Jack Straw, had published his autobiography – Last Man Standing. I went on to say he had held two of the great departments of State, the Home and Foreign Office under Tony Blair. Yet for Gibraltarians his name will for ever be linked with the debacle over joint sovereignty with Spain in 2002.
The odd thing about his autobiography is there are just two references to Gibraltar. The first relates to discussions on a Freedom of Information Act and mentions briefly the shooting of the IRA suspects. The second is a subheading to the chapter on his becoming Foreign Secretary entitled “Life in the Air”. This is followed by the quotation: “Zimbabwe, and Gibraltar – My answer to a close friend who’d asked in July 2002 what were the biggest issues facing me as the new Foreign Secretary.”
The big international issues of the day such as Iraq and Pakistan feature but although Straw claims Gibraltar was one of “the biggest issues facing me” not another word.
I am at the Labour Party Conference this week and of course Jack Straw is in attendance. I asked his office could we meet? “Oh no” they said, “he’s far too busy promoting his book”.
So I contacted his publishers who said there was a book signing - meet Jack Straw event on Tuesday night but other than that, nothing. So he wasn’t far too busy promoting his book.
Nor was Mr Straw keeping a low profile although his labelling of the former almost sainted leader of the Labour Party, John Smith, as an alcoholic who was not fit to be prime minister probably didn’t endear him to many party activists from that era.
So I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Mr Straw, who seemed to recognise my name, and was only too happy to talk. I asked him about the “Zimbabwe –Gibraltar” quote and if that was true why hadn’t he mentioned Gibraltar in the chapter.
His answer was he had written a chapter on Gibraltar but it wasn’t the Foreign Office who asked him to take it out but the publisher. He said the book was overlong so something had to go and it was the Rock.
Fair enough if true! However a chapter on Gibraltar would certainly have boosted the sales and to be honest the book is not exactly lengthy. The other oddity is that the heading to his Foreign Secretary chapter is the one that belongs to the Gibraltar chapter. So maybe Pan Macmillan, his publishers, not only has a paper shortage but also are lacking in competent editors.
So why isn’t Caruana not off the hook yet on the joint sovereignty issue? Well it seems Jack Straw is now keen to tell the tale of what happened over the joint sovereignty debacle in 2002 and is considering not just a chapter but a book exclusively on that subject.
The Hain book in January of this year, which was also being heavily promoted at the conference, revealed enough to suggest Caruana had intended to back the joint sovereignty deal and had misled the Europe Minister. However the fact is Hain is not a popular figure in the Labour Party let alone outside of it. Jack Straw on the other hand is a big beast of British politics and if he points the finger at Caruana then the accusations will stick. Of course the former chief minister might challenge Mr Straw in court. The only problem is that like Caruana Jack Straw is a lawyer too. Not only that he was Lord Chancellor. “Game on” is I think the modern phrase.