Andy McSmith's Diary: Labour officials found clutching at Straws

Former Home Secretary reveals how his sister sparked a security concern

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Indy Politics

When Jack Straw became Home Secretary in 1997, he was offered a chance to see the file the security services had on him. He declined, partly on principle – why should he have a privilege denied to others in whom the spooks had taken an interest? – and partly, he has now revealed, because he had seen it already.

When he was appointed a special adviser to the Labour minister Barbara Castle in 1974, he was interviewed twice by a retired policeman, and then summoned to meet a senior official because of an apparent discrepancy in something he had said. He was told: “Our records show that your sister was recruited into the Communist Party (CP) in 1961. Here, have a look.”

Straw continued the story in his Magna Carta lecture in London University last night: “He pushed an A5 sized memo across the desk. It recorded in typescript that the writer had been present at an address which I recognised, with a leading light in CND and the CP and a few others, when my sister Suzy had, at the instigation of a man called Scott, agreed to join the CP.

“I’d no idea that Suzy had joined the CP, I said, but I doubted that she’d had any idea either. She was on the left, but she was not a joiner of parties. What I could tell my interrogator, however, was that around that time she’d been making a play for Scott, whom she really fancied, and my guess was that she’d said ‘yes’ to please him.”

Some spin about spin

Whoever described supporters of the Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall as “Taliban New Labour” has caused a back lash. The different camps are now seeking a mutual agreement under which there will be no more anonymous name calling. Shabana Mahmood, who is running Yvette Cooper’s campaign, has set the tone by declaring on Huffington Post that if Cooper wishes to criticise her opponents she will do so publicly, and anybody who privately rubbishes other contenders while claiming to be speaking on her behalf isn’t. It would be interesting so see how this “no negative spinning” rule lasts.

Osborne the Balls-buster

Labour’s Chris Leslie handled his first Treasury questions yesterday in his new role as shadow Chancellor. As he completed his first question, George Osborne exclaimed: “Well, I never thought I would say, ‘bring back Ed Balls’.” A good start.

Janice makes new friends

“It looks very bad, it couldn’t look worse,” said Nigel Farage when he heard the allegation that a staff member employed by the MEP Janice Atkinson had been filmed engaging in what looked like financial sharp practice. It looked so bad that Atkinson and her employee were promptly expelled from Ukip. But what was bad for Ukip is a bonanza for Marine le Pen’s National Front party, for the Dutch MEP Geert Wilders – who likened the Koran to Mein Kampf and called for it to be banned – and for other ultra-right flotsam, who have at last been able to form a group in the European Parliament containing MEPs from seven EU countries.

A press release from Atkinson’s office pretentiously describes her as the “head” of the UK delegation within the group. Considering that it is a delegation of one, she could hardly be anything else.

A very senior councillor

Congratulations to John Bracey on his recent re-election to Sprowston Town Council, in Norfolk. Councillor Bracey was born in July 1923. Being a councillor gets him out and about and talking to the neighbours, he told Eastern Daily Press. He added: “I don’t want to just creep back into my house and when I die people say ‘oh I remember him’.”