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Monday 23 February 2015

It’s The Last Straw, Jack

Retiring MP Jack Straw, who will bid farewell to his Blackburn constituency in May, has always been a great fan of surveillance. When the Guardian ran with the Snowden revelations, he was dismissive: “I'm not suggesting for a moment anybody in the Guardian gratuitously wants to risk anybody's life. But what I do think is that their sense of power of having these secrets and excitement – almost adolescent excitement – about these secrets has gone to their head”.
And he was keen on greater Internet monitoring powers: “The letter was signed by former Labour home secretaries Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Alan Johnson, along with former Conservative home secretary Lord Baker and defence secretary Lord King, and Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, who until 2011 was the independent reviewer of government anti-terror lawsreported the BBC in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder.

Yes, Straw was in step with Alex Carlile, the spooks’ apologist of choice, who foresaw terrible consequences from the Guardian telling the world that GCHQ had an internal intranet with a notice board for sports clubs. Whatever next? There should be lots of snooping powers. But, for Straw, there were clearly limits to this kind of thing.

And those limits included the kind of surveillance that got Straw stung by an investigation which will be airing on Channel 4 very soon, where the former Foreign Secretary proudly tells that his going rate is a mere £5,000 a day. He and another former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, later told thatthey have broken no rules after being secretly filmed apparently offering their services to a private company for cash”.

Straw was, it seems, “mortified” that someone other than the spooks was keen on the kind of surveillance which you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. He may have some difficulty with this observation, though: “It is claimed that Mr Straw was recorded describing how he operated ‘under the radar’ and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year”.

This may not be improper conduct. But it gives off a distinctly ripe smell. And the only saving grace in this unsavoury reminder of stings past is that not only is Straw on his way out, but also that Mil The Younger moved quickly to do two things: ensure Straw lost the Labour whip, and write to Young Dave “challenging him to follow Labour’s lead in banning MPs from holding paid directorships or consultancies”.

That, as Spike Milligan might have put it, puts Cameron in A Very Difficult Position: Rifkind was due to stand for re-election in Kensington and Chelsea in May, hasn’t stood down from the Intelligence Committee, had the whip removed rather later than Straw, and has told the BBC’s Daily Politics that “I want to have a standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have”. Way to go with the circumspection there.

Miliband has seized the advantage once more. But this is a singularly unsavoury business.

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