Straw’s purpose in The English Job is two-fold. By recounting his negotiating experience and what happened on his 2015 trip – and in particular, how the Iranian police tried to protect him from the Basij – he wants to undermine the idea, put about by American and Israeli supporters of regime change in Iran, that there is no real difference between the theocratic and democratic elements of the Iranian state. He also explores the basis for the grievances put to him by the Basij: as the book’s subtitle puts it, his aim is “understanding Iran – and why it distrusts Britain”.
The book is highly readable, full of vivid history, diplomatic anecdotes and personal observation. It explains the peculiar circumstances of a country finely balanced between becoming a nuclear power and risking international isolation. It’s written in a manner that is balanced, dispassionate and yet sympathetic to the Iranian people...Straw, who in 2001 became the first senior British minister to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution, is clear-eyed about, and damning of, Britain’s part in empowering the shah. But he’s not about to fall for the flagrant historical revisionism practised by the religious authorities who have held control since Ayatollah Khomeini hijacked the revolution.
The English Job deserves a wider audience than it might otherwise have received, because it tells the critical story of Iran’s engagement with, and subjugation by, the Great Powers during the past two centuries — Britain and the US to the fore. This turbulent history is essential reading if we are to appreciate how we got where we are with Iran.