Sunday, August 07, 2005

Robin Cook

I was fortunate enough to watch the whole of the debate on the Scott Report on television (about selling arms to a Mr Hussein in Iraq. Pity we didn't sell him WMD while we were at it. At least we'd have known for certain that he had them.)
You really needed to see the whole of that debate to understand why everyone is banging on about the late Robin Cook's performance. He'd had a couple of hours to read a report the size of several telephone directories. Yet he stood at the Despatch Box and appeared to know it as intimately as if he'd written it himself.
In an obviously planned attempt to derail him, Tories bobbed up and down to intervene. He gave way to most of them, then swatted them away like irritating flies - or possibly the midges for which his native Scotland is notorious. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest Parliamentary performances of the last century.

He had recently been writing a weekly column in The Guardian and those will be greatly missed for his knowledge of the detail of the subjects and the clarity of expression. It's a rare gift to combine a formidable intellect with the ability to express yourself clearly. Neither of these characteristics are conspicuous in the ranks of New Labour.
I was musing to someone the other day that the present crop of Labour politicians are intellectual pygmies compared to some of the people who sat in Wilson's Cabinets, like Crossman, Healey and Crosland - and indeed Wilson himself.
There's a certain similarity between Cook and Crosland. The latter was also noted for intellectual arrogance and didn't suffer fools gladly. And his life was also cut short when he still had much to contribute to politics.

Someone once said of Robin Cook that he combined the looks of Lenin with the voice of Miss Jean Brodie. They might have added that he had the amatory skills of Casanova. According to his first wife, he had many affairs before the one that ended their marriage. This is probably an example of the way that some men who are not conventionally physically attractive learn to exploit their other attributes - in his case humour, intelligence and great verbal dexterity.
But, in the television age, it was considered that Cook's appearance and voice would be enough to prevent him wooing the electorate and that he could never be leader of the party. There are even those who think that Gordon Brown's dour manner and Scottish accent will prove a handicap electorally.

This is a great tragedy for it means that we shall never have another Attlee as Prime Minister, a man so lacking in charisma that the joke could be made 'an empty taxi pulled up and Mr Attlee got out.' Yet he is almost universally acknowledged as the greatest Prime Minister of the last century.
Robin Cook wouldn't necessarily have been a great party leader or Prime Minister but at a time when we have to endure the likes of Blunkett, Straw, Reid, Clarke et al, the loss to politics is massive.


At 9:53 PM, Blogger mike said...

I liked him much better both before and after his stint on the front bench, when a rather unpleasant arrogance seemed to take him over. But other than that... one of our better political figures, certainly.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Jane said...

So true and so well put. When you consider some of the idiots that are in the cabinet now mentioning no names but Hazel Blears comes to mind it makes his loss so much the greater.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger patroclus said...

I liked him (not in *that* way, despite his humour, intelligence and verbal dexterity). I know next to nothing about politics, but I have an enduring memory of my other favourite, Dobbo, clapping Cook on the back when he resigned over Iraq. It was great to see that at least some of them had some principles.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

It's a pity that all the people with principles are on the backbenches.

Don't start me off on Hazel Blears again! But she's not actually in the Cabinet although she'd dearly like to be. I'm just hoping that Brown doesn't like her and will cut her career short when he's leader.


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