Jack Straw on the 'Today' programme

Ken Brown k.brown at ccs.bbk.ac.uk
Tue Dec 10 11:45:29 PST 2019

Ian Miller wrote:
> Jack Straw has just been interviewed on the BBC4 Today programme.  After
> talking untypically good sense on his recent round of diplomacy, he
> finished off with a rant against the press for daring to criticise his
> efforts to regulate encryption, suggesting it was this that prevented
> catching the WTC terrorists before they struck.  He also seemed to be
> assuming that, in the light of recent events, we would all agree with him
> now.
> It sounded to me very like he was diverging from his script, and expressing
> his own personal frustration, so we shouldn't assume it necessarily signals
> anything about government policy.  Albeit he is probably saying the same
> sort of nonsense in cabinet.

I heard it as well.  It made me angry. Angry enough to waste 20 minutes

It does seem as if Straw was taking it personally. My guess is that some
of it stems from New Labour's vast desire to win elections.   They
believe that government must seem to be strong to be re-elected. So
anything that looks like a government defeat is an anomaly that should
be rectified as soon as possible. If Straw really thinks he gave in on
encryption (as far as I can tell they won) then a new bill will be
somewhere on his list.

That is probably OK - he's not Home Secretary any more. The real problem
is that the government as a whole is obsessed with party unity. They
hate anyone being off-message, they think it loses votes. So when the
leadership is seen to be going in one direction, everyone else must be
seen to be marching in step. There has been more than one occasion where
Blair said something off the cuff and it suddenly became untouchable
policy. Not because there is any kind of personality cult - Labour still
hasn't sunk that far, in Britain that kind of perverted loyalty is more
likely to be met with among Tories  - but because they have been told by
generations of journalists that divided parties lose elections.

So if a censorship or encryption clampdown gets into a Blair speech
instead of a Straw one, and if it is allowed to become policy, or even
to seem to be policy,  then they will waste time getting new legislation
*even* *if* *they* *know* *it* *is* *useless*  because they value party
unity above passing good laws. They will do this for moral reasons,
because they think that if they seem disunited or weak then the Tories
will win, and pass worse laws. So they do the Tories work for them.  As
usual they are refighting the last war with the tactics of the one
before - they are still obsessed with Thatcher, desiring both to defeat
her and to be like her; but most of all to stop any Tory like her ever
getting into power again.

In hard times the government needs to keep its eye on the ball. The sort
of nonsense Straw was talking about  this morning won't help anybody. 
It is a waste of time. He's doing a bloody good job as Foreign
Secretary,  he should stick to it, and forget about censorship,
encryption and i.d. cards; measure which wouldn't have stopped the
attack, won't stop the next one, and will waste the time and money and
effort of the police and the intelligence services whilst alienating
people who would in other circumstances be this government's strong
supporters. They will spend billions on measures that will annoy
millions of law-abiding citizens, just to make life slightly tougher for
a few travellers, immigrants, rough-sleepers, and moonlighters  and sad
men who like to look at dirty pictures, while doing *nothing* to worry
organised crime or terrorists.

The weirdest thing was Boris Johnson outflanking Jack Straw on the left. 

Johnson was saying on the same program, that the attackers have a
"conservative" frame of mind (and less relevantly that such conservatism
seemed to be inherent in Islam). He at first seemed to say (or was
reported as saying by the journalists) that the attackers had a fear and
loathing of women which perhaps disturbed their minds, made them behave
in ways that to us seem irrational or insane. Later he retracted that
but called them "conservatives" (he seemed to realise the irony as he
spoke), people scared of social change, of uncertainty, of the apparent
disorder and liberty of Europe and America.

Straw  - in this context - is a conservative. He has, I think, a sincere
desire, deeply and strongly felt, for order in society. He is
emotionally disturbed by kids hanging around on street corners, by
aggressive speech, by ranting, by travellers (I  cringe with
embarrassment when I remember is absurd racist nonsense about "real
gypsies". That man is in the same party as me?), by illegal immigrants,
by petty smuggling, by public drunkenness, by litter, by disorder and
complexity and ragged edges in general. He wants to clean up all the
social clutter.  It is the other side of the coin from the concern for
"social exclusion". He wants everyone to be socially included, and those
who can't, or won't, be included are scary. He thinks we would all be
happier if everyone knew their place. 

He's not really a nationalist, but he is a statist. He thinks security
and order are the product of the state, and that without the state our
lives would be nasty, brutish, and short. So the authority of the state
must be preserved.  For him teenagers drinking cheap cider on street
corners are at the thin end of a wedge that leads to the destruction of

This kind of conservative personality (whether Islamic-conservative or
New-Labour-conservative) can all too easily slide into the sort of
authoritarianism that objects to unlicensed people going about their
unlicensed business, that wants to force everybody not just to know
their place but to keep their place, that fears unregulated speech, that
hates the idea of men with no master. That thinks that the only way to
stop the kids hanging about on the street corners is to tell them where
they should be and make sure they stay there. That thinks that the only
way of preventing us from spreading hate over the Internet or from
plotting to put bombs in the House of Commons car park is to listen to
everything we say. That everything that is not explicitly commanded
should be forbidden. That the giving and the taking of orders is good
for the soul. In British politics that sort of authoritarian personality
has typically found a home in  the Conservative Party (some Tories love
to spout about libertarianism and free trade,  but the party as a whole
has been firmly grounded in  blue-rinsed, nationalist, royalist,
protectionist, petty deferentialism for it's entire history). But I
think we are seeing the result of authoritarian entryism into the Labour

Boris Johnson, I hate to admit, was right. 

If this is a war, we aren't going to win it by capitulating. Jack Straw
made a surrender speech this morning. He called for appeasement. He
almost certainly has no idea that that is what he was doing.

I think Straw makes a decent Foreign Secretary. Intelligent, honest,
hard-working, sincere, a lover of law and the Law, the last man to go
and drop bombs on people for revenge and spite.  But I thank God he
isn't Home Secretary any more. I honestly doubt that he is emotionally 
capable of understanding why some of us cannot morally put up with i.d.
cards and censorship. The liberty we love seems to him to be disorder,
irrationality, delusion.


More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list