THE UNTIMELY DEATH of the Scottish MP Robin Cook last weekend has been a bitter blow to the parliamentary opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and a personal tragedy to his friends and relations.
Cook originally entered the House of Commons in 1974 with left social-democratic credentials and he soon won a reputation for himself as a skilful parliamentary debater. A member of the Tribune group, he was a supporter of unilateral nuclear disarmament and an outspoken critic of the right-wing policies of the 1970s Labour governments led by Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.
These pacifist and “left” views were soon forgotten as Cook gravitated more and more towards the dominant right-wing bloc during the long period when Labour was out of office, aligning himself first with Neil Kinnock, then John Smith and finally ending up as a supporter of Tony Blair and his “New Labour” project. His reward was the Foreign Ministry when Labour won the 1997 general election.
He was a mediocre Foreign Secretary who tried to pass off the stale old aggressive policies of British imperialism as “ethical” and “independent” while his initiatives over Palestine and Kashmir failed because they simply did not have the blessing of US imperialism.
Cook was a keen supporter of integration within the European Union and had no problems in endorsing the attack on Yugoslavia or the criminal blockade of Iraq when these policies were also those of France and Germany. But Blair turned increasingly towards the most aggressive, venal and reactionary sections of the British ruling class: the war party who see their best interests served in exclusive alliance with US imperialism. Cook’s pro-European stance became an embarrassment and his demotion to Leader of the House was inevitable after Blair won another landslide victory for Labour in 2001.
Cook’s pro-European sentiments, essentially in support of those elements within the ruling class that aligned themselves with Franco-German imperialism, led to his isolation within the Blair Cabinet, though he remained publicly loyal up to the eve of the invasion, resigning on 17th March when it became clear that Blair was going to war without the fig-leaf United Nations mandate that France and Germany had denied him.
Cook put to shame those “left” posers who jumped on Blair’s band-wagon seeking fame and favour and betrayed the movement that had put them in Parliament in the first place by supporting and justifying the criminal onslaught against the Iraqi people. Cook ridiculed the claim that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and he rallied a considerable number of Labour rebels against the war and stiffened the anti-war position of the Liberal Democrats and those pro-EU Tories like Kenneth Clarke who also spoke out against it.
Though never a part of the anti-war movement, Robin Cook will always be remembered for taking the principled stand in resigning from the Blair Cabinet in protest at the Government’s decision to join forces with the United States in the invasion of Iraq and for his later attempts to bring down the Blair government. In doing so he marched in step with the demands of millions of working people who want an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq. It is not surprising that at the last general election in May 2005 Cook was one of the few Labour MPs to actually increase his majority.
Like Kenneth Clarke, Robin Cook represented the alternative leadership the pro-European camp hoped would eventually triumph over Blair and the Tory Euro-sceptics. It may be some time before they can find some one else to step in Cook’s shoes.
On 6th August Robin Cook collapsed on rocky terrain while hill-walking on Ben Stack in Sutherland, Scotland. He was taken to Raigmore hospital in Inverness by helicopter where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The post-mortem revealed that he had died of hypertensive heart disease.