If you look carefully enough, on the large dedication wall of sponsors next to the refectory, you can see the name Jack Straw. Today, Straw was interviewed by LSR after his tour of the new union.
But who is he, and why was he having a private tour? From 1975 to 2015, Straw was the Labour MP for Blackburn. Tony Blair appointed him to the post of Home Secretary and later Foreign Secretary. Under Gordon Brown he served as both Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. Straw’s illustrious political career started at Leeds University, where he graduated with a 2:2 in law.
Whilst he was here, Straw was elected President of the LUU Labour Society and later President of the union (1967-68). If you go down to Old Bar, you can see Straw’s name in gold on the board of LUU Presidents. He was welcomed back to the union in 2013 to announce the 75th Anniversary celebrations. However, the relationship between LUU and Straw hasn’t always been so positive.
At the union’s Annual General Meeting in 2000, around 600 students voted to revoke Straw’s life time membership of the union. This was in response to Straw’s record as Home Secretary. He was accused of threatening the “basic principles of freedom, liberty and democracy,” (Guardian, 2000). Simon Rothstein, who was the Finance and Administration officer at the time, said that he was responsible for many ‘anti-civil liberties’ (Guardian, 2000). Straw’s name was taken off the board, and a plaque was erected to commemorate the occasion.
One of the issues raised by those who supported the measure against Straw was his association with the controversial Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), which he introduced as Home Secretary. Under this Act, those with pending asylum claims were given vouchers for food and clothes instead of money. There was also the dispersal policy which meant that in order to reduce the pressure on certain councils, asylum seekers had to consent to being dispersed across the country, otherwise they would not receive aid. This dispersal meant that asylum seekers were sent to areas with high levels of urban poverty, due to the availability of housing stock (Guardian, 2000).
The Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill was also one of the threats. This bill would have allowed magistrates to decide if certain cases should be heard in a Crown court or the Magistrates court. This would have removed the right of defendants to choose to have a trial by jury of their peers (Liberty, 2000). This would have interfered with the fundamental principle of British Justice; right to a trial by Jury. The Bill was killed by an all-party alliance in the House of Lords.
So, Straw’s life time membership was revoked in 2000. Flash forward to 2007, he was reinstated and his name was returned to the board you can see in Old Bar. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, students at the university voted 1,200 to 400 to reinstate him (Yorkshire Evening Post, 2007). Today he returned, rather quietly, to see the new union.
In 1999, when Straw was pushing through the Immigration Bill, it Jeremy Corbyn was one of the MPs to stand against him. If you want to hear Straw’s opinion of Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, and more, listen to our interview with him now.