TLF TALK The English Job: Understanding Iran and Why It Distrusts Britain – Jack Straw
In 2001, Jack Straw became the first senior British Foreign Secretary to visit Iran since the 1979
revolution, and has developed a growing interest in the country ever since. In 2003, with his
French and German counterparts, he initiated the ‘E3’ nuclear negotiations which led to the
nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 – now the source of rising tension following President Trump’s
decision to withdraw from it.
The book opens with a bizarre and alarming ‘holiday’ that Straw tried to take in October 2015,
when he found himself caught between two separate state security agencies – one protecting
him, the other disrupting him. During this trip, he was handed a document effectively blaming
him for more than a century and a half of malign British interference in Iran’s politics.
The English Job examines Britain’s extraordinary and tangled relationship with Iran, and why so
many Iranians are obsessed with Britain’s role in their history. Amongst British diplomats,
there’s a rather poignant joke that ‘Iran is the only country in the world which still regards the
United Kingdom as a superpower’. But for many Iranians, it’s not a joke at all. Scratch the
surface and Iranians of all political persuasions will remind you that it was Britain, with the US,
who removed the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. The
coup against Mossadegh may have been in 1953, but for Iranians that feels like yesterday.
As we in the United Kingdom continue to define ourselves by what happened eighty years ago
at the start of the Second World War, modern Iranians define themselves by their bloody
experience of the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–88, when the country stood alone against Iraq. The
conflict was an act of unprovoked aggression by Saddam Hussein. The rest of the world –
France, the Soviet Union and, later, the US and the UK – all piled in to support Iraq, with Saudi
Arabia and other Gulf states bankrolling Saddam. It was this experience that helped define
Iran’s view of the world and its attitudes to both local rivals for power and those further afield.
Straw tells too the remarkable story of how it was Israel which helped save Iran from total
The English Job sheds new light on Britain’s difficult relationship with Iran and explores the
culture, psychology and history of this fascinating country. Straw goes on to discuss the
consequences of domestic repression in Iran, with the crushing of the 2009 protests a
significant turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic, leading to the expansion of the
deep state led by Supreme Leader Khamenei and the IRGC. He ends with sharp and timely
conclusions about the future of the Islamic Republic, and its relations with the West.
Rt Hon. Jack Straw is one of three senior ministers to remain in Cabinet throughout the 1997–
2010 Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was Home Secretary (1997–
2001), Foreign Secretary (2001–06), Leader of the Commons (2006–07) and Lord Chancellor
and Justice Secretary (2007–10). He was co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on
Iran (2010–15). His most recent visit to Iran was in January 2018. His memoirs Last Man
Standing (Macmillan, 2012) received wide praise. Jack was the Member of Parliament for
Blackburn from 1979 to 2015, when he retired from the Commons. He is honorary vice
president of Blackburn Rovers AFC. Before becoming an MP, Jack practised as a barrister and then worked as a special adviser in the 1974–79 Labour government. He lives in London.