Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:  Sun, 12 Jul 1998
Author: Nicholas Rufford, Home Affairs Editor


NEVER trust your children's taste in music. Or so Jack Straw, the home
secretary, has found to his cost. The choice by William and Charlotte, his
two teenagers, of History by the Verve for his appearance on Desert Island
Discs includes the chorus: "I've got a skinful of dope."

The irony is unlikely to be lost on listeners to Radio 4: William, 17, was
caught supplying cannabis in a south London pub before Christmas.

The song is one of eight choices by Straw to accompany a stroll down memory
lane, which includes a description of his childhood in a one-parent family
on an Essex council estate and his divorce and loss of a child. Others
songs include Get Off My Cloud by the Rolling Stones, Mozart's Cosi fan
tutte and Handel's Messiah.

Pressed about William's brush with the law by Sue Lawley, the Desert Island
Discs presenter, Straw agreed that his son was "set up" but admitted: "That
doesn't excuse what he did, which was both wrong and also foolish.

"It was an awful thing to happen. He shouldn't have done it. It was wrong.
I talked to him and said, 'Look William, there is only one thing to do in
this situation. You and I have to go to the police station and you have got
to say what happened and I'm sorry, old son, you've got to take it on the
chin.' "

An embarrassed Home Office spin doctor admitted yesterday that Straw had
not grasped the meaning of the lyrics in the Verve's 1995 hit: "It was
chosen for him. He did not vet every line."

The words will come as no surprise to fans of the Verve. Narcotics are a
consistent theme of the group's songs; one of their other big hits is The
Drugs Don't Work.

The issue of cannabis and Straw's family is a banana skin that keeps
getting under his feet. Ed Straw, Jack's brother, has talked openly about
his own "hippie" phase, when he enjoyed smoking - and inhaling - cannabis.

Straw has had to state repeatedly that despite being a radical leftwinger
at university and one-time president of the National Union of Students, he
has never puffed a joint.

In fact, Straw probably has little to worry about. Opinion polls showed his
public approval rating went up after the publicity over his son. Most
people thought a home secretary should be able to draw on first-hand
experience when formulating policies on youth, justice and drugs.

Straw has also equalled the reputation of his predecessor, Michael Howard,
for being tough on crime. In the Radio 4 interview he reveals that he has
made three citizens' arrests. "The first time it was a burglar in Blackburn
and I heard him breaking out of the Nalgo club. I went out hoping he'd gone
the other way, but in fact I collided with him. He tore off up the street
and I tore off after him. Then he stopped in a street appropriately called
Nab Lane, so I grabbed him."

Straw blames his sometimes lacklustre Commons performance on a combination
of tinnitus and deafness in one ear.

Wags will point out that his condition may also explain why he is oblivious
to song lyrics.

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski