Thursday, January 11, 2007

"I may not have succeeded.."

I met Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Secretary, a few times over the course of his life.

The first time was while I was campaigning with Malcolm Bruce, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats in the 1992 election. During that campaign there were several set piece debates involving the four leaders, Malcolm, Ian Lang- the then Conservative Secretary of State- Donald Dewar for Labour and Alex Salmond of the SNP. Over the course of the campaign we grew quite friendly with "the opposition". Occasionally one or another of the leaders might be substituted, depending on commitments elsewhere, and indeed in Lanark, for a BBC hustings, Robin Cook turned up in place of Donald Dewar.

Where Dewar was gregarious and warm, Cook was watchful, suspicious even. He sat alone in the green room checking out the "Racing Post" and gathering his thoughts. He struck me then as a solitary figure- quite unlike the cheerful and joke-cracking Dewar.

Through the years that passed, that initial judgement- that he was an intense, driven and solitary man- did not much change. Then, as it turned out less than three weeks before his death, I was present at a small and private reception at the Estonian Embassy in order to see him being presented with one of Estonia's highest decorations: the Order of Terra Mariana.

This Robin Cook was much mellowed. It was as though the experience of his second marriage and the principled stand he had taken against the war in Iraq had liberated him. One no longer had a sense of caution, of prickliness, but of a man who was comfortable inside his skin. While I had respected his stance, he had hitherto seemed admirable perhaps, but not likable. That day, he was charming, thoughtful and wise.

His sudden death a few days later came as a real shock.

On the day that George W. Bush announces a further "surge" in the prosecution of the bloody war of attrition that Iraq has become, it seems somehow appropriate that Robin Cook's epitaph has been published:

"I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of Parliament to decide on war"

I now think, what might things have been like, if Robin Cook had lived. For all his faults, he was a man of principle and at the end a man of honour.

Alas, too late, the Statesman awoke and he is sorely missed now.

2 comments: said...

I was in Bosnia when Robin Cook died. It was significant that a Bosnian who I was talking to on a bus told me how sad he was at Cook's death.

Of course Cook was Foreign Secretary when resolute action was taken to stop Milosevic's aggression in Kosova. If only he had been in government when multi-ethnic Bosnia was attacked by extreme nationalists (supported by Milosevic and Tudjman).

Cicero said...

Indeed. The British role in Bosnia including at Srebrenica can be put down as one of the darkest pahses of British foreign policy. The personal profits that Douglas Hurd and Dame Pauline Neville Jone made from the transactions that NatWest markets made with Milosevic are little short of a scandal.