As Jack Straw contemplates retirement at the 2015 election, the most serpentine survivalist in even New Labour’s nest of superannuated puff adders takes time to reflect. What leaps out of a valedictory interview with The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead – one in which he treats his assistant Dan much as a gouty duke might treat a lame labrador on the grouse moor – is the lack of vanity. “Well, I think I would have done a better job,” says the shy and retiring MP for Blackburn of Gordon Brown. “Yes, I meant running a country, you know, I’m not bad at that.”
I must have missed his stint in charge of Britain, but the memory’s not what it was and no doubt it was a golden age. Yet even Jack must have his weaknesses, and only when he is asked to cite what he was worst at, and what now makes him wince, does the full enchantment emerge. “Bad at? I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s … I think … I don’t often think I’m really bad at anything.”
After pausing for deep thought, all he can dredge is up being dilatory with his diary. Some will wonder if he was also bad at not colluding in the rendition to Colonel Gaddafi, for a little light torture, of Libyan dissidents. Others may regard the worst moment of his career was deciding, weeks after becoming home secretary in 1997, that there was absolutely no need for a new Hillsborough inquiry. One could go on. But that would be hardly be in keeping with the selfless contribution to public life of a man whose one failing, if failing is the word, was maintaining a level of perfection to make lesser politicians feel inadequate. Enjoy Jack Straw for the next 15 months, in the certainty that you will miss him dreadfully when he’s gone.
Even the good must go in Gove’s three-year purge
If any serving minister is riven with a lack of confidence like Jack, it is Michael Gove. Under fierce attack from David Laws and others for his knifing of Ofsted’s Sally Morgan, the Education Secretary strove mightily to conquer his self-doubt on Andrew Marr’s show – though you may have been bemused as to why he is firing a “fantastic person” who did “a really good job”. The sole reason, Govey cited, was not Ofsted’s savaging of his free schools – as if – but her marathon three years in the post. “From time to time you need to refresh,” he said, “and bring a new pair of eyes to bear.” Michael Gove, another fantastic person who has done a really good job (in his own old eyes at least), has been Education Secretary for three years and eight months.
Facing guerillas is nothing compared to ex-wife Rebekah
Several days after reading it, I am still beset by the ague occasioned by a report about the adventures of Ross Kemp (Ross Wade as was) in Papua New Guinea.
While filming for his telly series Extreme World 3, Ross encountered three armed guerillas in the jungle, and heroically faced them down by pushing away a rifle as he yelled “Are you gonna kill me? No one’s gonna fucking kill me.” Kill him they did not, allowing him on his way with not an imaginary hair on his head harmed.
From time to time, it is rumoured, documentary makers flam things up in the quest for high drama, but the form book guarantees that this was not the case here. In November 2005, Ross summoned police to his Battersea home over an alleged domestic tiff with his then wife Rebekah Brooks. My, my, hasn’t Ross been on an amazing journey along Fearlessness Boulevard in eight and a bit years?
The ice-pixie is desperate to melt the nation’s heart
Despite my colleague John Rentoul’s hunch that the next Labour leader will be Gloria De Piero, the favourite remains Yvette Cooper. The odds will narrow even further now that Yvette is skilfully humanising herself in interviews like the one last week in which the ice-pixie was less frosty and more elfin than ever before confiding how husband Ed Balls shirks paternal duties during the frantic morning school run minutes by hiding behind his piano, she confessed to a hankering for a berth on Strictly Come Dancing, winsomely adding “I’m sure I’d be hopeless.” I find that hard to believe, and the BBC would be insane not to put it to the test in the next Christmas celebrity special. If the Ashkenazy of the Labour front bench can master a little Tchaikovsky, Ed could accompany her Sugar Plum Fairy on the piano. If on the other hand she is yoked to a returning Vince Cable for a smouldering Argentine tango, interpret the implications for a future Labour-Lib Dem governing duet as you choose.
When budget air travel means leaving the jet and going 1st class
Taking giant strides in the field of raw courage is expectant father Simon Cowell. A dozen years after last enduring the indignity, it is reported that Simon has subjected himself again to the privations of commercial air travel, forsaking his private jet for a flight from LA to London. Fears that the ratings collapses of his talent shows on both sides of the Atlantic compelled this on thrift grounds are happily unfounded. Simon was merely proving to the mother of his unborn son that he can rough it with the best of them in first class. Now I admire Simon’s heroism, as Harry Hill would put it, but then I also admire Ross Kemp’s. But which is braver? There’s only one to find out. Fiiiiiiiiight!