Jack Straw 'was chief troublemaker' on student trip to Chile
By Matthew Beard
[The Independent - 07 March 2003]
Jack Straw was "chief troublemaker" on a student trip to Chile in 1966 which descended into a shambles because of "childish politicking", according to papers released yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary, then a 19-year-old law student at Leeds University, exploited divisions among the 19 student politicians who went to Chile to build a youth centre in a project organised by the British Council. Acting with "malice aforethought", Mr Straw sought to create a "minor scandal" which would upset the National Union of Students' leaders who had ousted the previous communist executive.
The youth centre was not completed and serious tensions arose between the Chilean and British students, who were nearly sent home in disgrace before the intervention of the British Council.
According to correspondence released by the Public Record Office, embassy staff were in no doubt about the identity of the agent provocateur. Other reports told of him making an unscheduled visit to a poncho factory and enjoying clifftop walks with a local teenager, Nancy de Galvez.
The British embassy in the Chilean capital, Santiago, expressed their concerns about Mr Straw to the Foreign Office.
Alexander Stirling, first secretary at the embassy, wrote: "We had the impression that Jack Straw, the appropriately named chief troublemaker, was acting with malice aforethought.
"This impression might be entirely mistaken and I should hate to start a witch-hunt, but he seemed to deliberately have bought matters to the point where the British Council had to intervene."
The trip to Chile would have provided a useful initiation into politics for Mr Straw, who was elected president of the NUS in 1969. During his NUS presidency, Mr Straw was monitored by MI5, whose files classified him as a "communist sympathiser".
"I was surprised that given that it was a storm in a teacup inside a student delegation in the summer of 1966 that it caused so much trouble inside the British embassy in Chile," he said. "Just as politicians have changed in the last 37 years so have British diplomats – they have been slimmed down and they have more to do so they have fewer reports like that to write."
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