Jack Straw spends evening at Dunmow school as part of Essex Book Festival

Jack Straw is joined by Zoe Franklin (left) and Rebecca Hills, both Year 10.

Jack Straw is joined by Zoe Franklin (left) and Rebecca Hills, both Year 10. - Credit: Archant

REGULARLY visiting his mum in the county, Jack Straw admits he easily falls back into being “Essex”.

Having grown up in Epping, the politician was an obvious choice to join this year’s Essex Book Festival tour, having recently released his first book.

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor tells the tale of how he rose from being one of five children brought up by a single parent in an Essex council home to spending 13 years and 11 days in Government – a Labour record.

During his career, he has spent long and influential spells as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

Before going on stage in front of a packed audience at The Helena Romanes School, in Parsonage Downs, Great Dunmow, he said: “I didn’t hesitate in accepting the invitation to do the Essex Book Festival because of my Essex connection. I have not lived in Essex since I was 18, but it is where I am from. My mum still lives three-quarters of a mile from where she was born, in Loughton. I joined the Labour group in the very building she lives in, in the 1960s.

“I decided to write the book now because I am no longer in Government, I had the time and I was lucky enough to have an agent and publisher who wanted me to write it. It has given me a great satisfaction to write a book that has been well received. When you spend ages looking at a blank screen and then you get inspiration, it’s very exhilarating.”

The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP – his current full title – was interviewed on stage by the BBC’s political documentary-maker Michael Cockerell.

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Mr Straw, who believes he suffered depression for 30 years due in part to his “wacky” childhood, admitted he would not have gone into as much detail about his private life in his book had he still been in Government.

He said: “You have to be very careful not to appear as though you are looking for sympathy. Plus, my wife and I agreed early on if we were going to survive we had to keep our family below the radar. Your family life and where you live are irrelevant to whether you can do your job properly. I don’t go to my GP and ask about his family life; it’s no different.”

Mr Straw’s family did hit the headlines, however, when he was Home Secretary and his then 17-year-old son William was caught by an undercover newspaper reporter selling drugs.

He said: “It was terrible; the whole thing was vile. I received a call from Piers Morgan telling me the story was going to run. I felt very sorry for William, but I also felt very angry and guilty as he would not have been in that position if I were not Home Secretary. We were all bloody idiots at 17, but the difference is our dads weren’t Home Secretary.”

Mr Straw also spoke openly about his time in Government and when asked if he believed in the war in Iraq, he said: “I had my reservations about the decision to go to war, but in the end I decided it was the right thing. With hindsight, knowing what we know now, of course not. But, would I make the same decision again with the same information available to us at the time, yes I would. It was the biggest, most difficult decision of my life. One thing I can assure everybody is that nobody lied. We were all trying on big, heavy rubber suits to protect our staff from chemical and biological warfare.”

Last Man Standing is available now for £20.

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