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A Slight and Delicate Creature: The Memoirs of Margaret Cook 
Weidenfeld, 307 pp., £20, January 1999, 0 297 84293 5Show More
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... their story in its unedited detail to paper. Among these mounds of autobiography will be Margaret Cook’s effort at self-valuation. It is a classic of the genre. Unlike most of these productions, Dr Cook’s memoir has been professionally published, but that is her consolation prize for having had the misfortune or bad ...

After Smith

Ross McKibbin, 9 June 1994

... turn nasty. You tangle with them at your peril. Certainly, Labour’s Scottish frontbenchers – Robin Cook (especially), Gordon Brown, Donald Dewar and, of course, John Smith himself – have a terse, combative Parliamentary style light-years from Mr Kinnock’s and this has earned them a grudging but general respect. Mr Smith was also thought (and ...

Benetton Ethics

Nick Cohen: Treachery at the FO, 2 July 1998

First Annual Report on Human Rights 
by Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
56 pp., April 1998
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The Great Deception 
by Mark Curtis.
Pluto, 272 pp., £14.99, June 1998, 0 7453 1234 9
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... government: ‘Bollocks, Cohen. What about the landmines?’ What about the landmines? On 12 May Robin Cook announced the Government’s first leftward shift. Labour would abandon Tory foreign policy, whose futile cynicism had been dissected in the Arms-to-Iraq inquiry. Britain’s relations with the rest of the world would now have ‘an ethical ...


Alan Bennett: Postscript, 19 February 2004

... looked round for its justification and thinking he had found it bumped the country along with him. Robin Cook is careful always to give Blair the benefit of the doubt, saying that Blair really did believe Saddam had the weapons. I’m never sure, though, that Cook’s forbearance is not just an extension of the ...

Why did he risk it?

Ross McKibbin: Blair, Brown and the US, 3 April 2003

... and the same crabbed and fearful view of domestic politics, has, with the obvious exception of Robin Cook and in a barmy way Clare Short, been utterly passive. Were the Parliamentary Labour Party able to exercise any real oversight of the Government it would almost certainly have been much harder for Blair. Throughout the last six years backbenchers ...

What did Cook want?

Jon Lawrence: Both ‘on message’ and off, 19 February 2004

The Point of Departure 
by Robin Cook.
Simon and Schuster, 368 pp., £20, October 2003, 0 7432 5255 1
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... 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 ...


R.W. Johnson: Major Wins the Losership, 3 August 1995

... into our antique political culture than a party leadership contest. I remember talking with Robin Cook just as the Blair bandwagon began to assume unstoppable proportions. Cook had outfought and out-performed every other Labour contender by a mile; he was cleverer, more experienced, funnier. And yet what he was ...

Mr Straight and Mr Good

Paul Foot: Gordon Brown, 19 February 1998

Gordon Brown: The Biography 
by Paul Routledge.
Simon and Schuster, 358 pp., £17.99, February 1998, 0 684 81954 6
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... Labour candidate for the safe seat of desperately impoverished Dunfermline East, he co-edited with Robin Cook another series of socialist essays, The Great Divide. In his Introduction, he grappled with the familiar argument that the shocking conditions of the poor could only be improved in times of economic growth. ‘The era of economic growth,’ he ...

‘Wisely I decided to say nothing’

Ross McKibbin: Jack Straw, 22 November 2012

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor 
by Jack Straw.
Macmillan, 582 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4472 2275 0
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... the reputation of the Blair and Brown governments. After the 2001 election Blair decided that Robin Cook was insufficiently on message and replaced him with Straw, which meant that Straw was in the Foreign Office throughout the Iraq War. It would be testing for any autobiographer to explain this away, and Straw makes the best case he can for Britain ...
... of government performance – as, for example, John Prescott has recently shown in transport, and Robin Cook in health. When both Front Benches are agreed on central issues, meaningful debate is difficult, bordering on the unachievable. Worse still, it may be difficult to get a debate at all. It was a disgrace that despite many requests from ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Ghost Writer’, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, 22 April 2010

The Ghost Writer 
directed by Roman Polanski.
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 
directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
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... At one point his passionate defence of his policies – imagine Tony Blair wiping the floor with Robin Cook on the subject of safety procedures – makes us feel not that he was right but that he was realistic, and if we don’t exactly feel sympathy for him we do feel there’s a dignity amid the smarm. Maybe it’s Polanski’s lack of interest in ...

Just what are those teeth for?

Ian Hamilton, 24 April 1997

... Clarke has the knack of seeming both competent and flammable. So too, in his donnish way, does Robin Cook. Indeed, Cook – of all the pols I’ve been scrutinising – has been the most intriguing. He keeps his temper not just in order to be liked, nor simply to be seen as a safe pair of hands. Knowing that, in TV ...

Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... which all the amphetamine gunslingers proved their manhood: Jim Thompson, Harry Dean Stanton and Robin Cook (a.k.a. Derek Raymond). Penman was the writer who isn’t in the book, talking to people who are, or were, or ought to be. His patch was cinema arcana, curating the ‘sessions men’ as he calls them, jobbing actors with faces full of motel ...

Short Cuts

Chris Mullin: Anonymous and Abuse, 21 November 2019

... readers to ‘open fire’ on the political figures who opposed the war, prominent among them Robin Cook, Clare Short, Charles Kennedy and the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. The accompanying text read: ‘You can aim your own missiles at the cowards and traitors who opted to support Saddam Hussein rather than the brave troops who laid down their ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert Fergusson, 25 September 2003

‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... a while to recover from the massiveness of that statement, and its inappropriateness to, say, Robin Cook, but it does identify something quintessential to Fergusson. I’m sure Dunn is right to reject ‘po-faced’ readings of the elegy, and to claim that it upholds the resilience of the Scots musical tradition even as it pronounces its demise: O ...

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