What did Cook want?

Jon Lawrence

  • The Point of Departure by Robin Cook
    Simon and Schuster, 368 pp, £20.00, October 2003, ISBN 0 7432 5255 1

Robin Cook’s memoir concentrates on the first two years of the second Blair government, from his ‘demotion’ to leader of the House immediately after the 2001 general election to his resignation over the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He may have wanted to get the book out quickly while Iraq, WMDs and Hutton still dominate the headlines, but, more important, writing exclusively about the Blair second term allows him to construct a narrative of political disillusion shorn of awkward questions about the compromises that had been necessary for him to stay loyal to the New Labour ‘project’ before 2001. By the time Labour came to power in 1997, Cook, like so many lifelong left-wingers, had already abandoned many of the defining radical causes of his youth, including unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EU. Crucially, he not only backed Blair in the 1994 leadership contest, but rallied behind his subsequent campaign to drop Clause Four. Initially unenthusiastic about the modernisers’ determination to slay this venerable Old Labour dragon, Cook appears to have changed tack once it was apparent that the bulk of the centre-left was prepared to endorse Blair’s crusade as a symbol of much needed radical renewal within the party. Once in office as foreign secretary, Cook found himself obliged to defend such policies as the Allied bombing of Iraq and the war in Kosovo that were manifestly being driven principally from 10 Downing Street and the White House. He also had to sit tight and accept a great many heavy-handed attempts to impose the will of Number 10 on local Labour organisations – the Welsh Assembly and the London mayoral contest were notable examples.

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[*] Robin Cook (Phoenix, 1999).