Death of a Parliamentarian

8 August 2005

by Antoinette Odoi and Charlie Devereux

Following the death of Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, many politicians, friends and journalists have paid tribute to the MP who was seen as a strong parliamentarian and a significant figure in the opposition the war in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose opinion on the Iraq war differed to Cook’s, said, “Robin was an outstanding, extraordinary talent - brilliant, incisive in debate, of incredible skill and persuasive power. This news will be received with immense sadness, not just in Britain but in many parts of the world.”

Meanwhile, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, said "Robin Cook was paramount in parliamentary debate. It is a particular tragedy that his life has been cut short because his career was unfulfilled ... there was more to come”. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said, “Scottish, British and international politics have lost a good and gifted man.”

The international community has also acknowledged the unexpected death of the MP with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paying tribute to a "passionate defender of human freedom and dignity."

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described  Robin Cook as a "partner on a wide range of issues". Cook had recently defended Annan’s proposal for the reformation of the UN and for his part in the Iraq Oil for Food programme

Much of the commentary in the British press concentrated on his abilities as a parliamentarian and orator, with most obituaries emphasising his role in opposition, while suggesting that his desire for integrity laid him open for criticism when in power.

The Telegraph suggested that although it had disagreed with many of his policies while Foreign Secretary it still respected his “consistent and honourable world-view.”

The Independent’s Steve Richards lamented the death of an important figure in the opposition to the war in Iraq : “Who do we turn to now for a vividly insightful running commentary on the consequences of the war?”

Since his resignation as Leader of the House of Commons over the issue of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, Cook had written widely in the British press on issues surrounding the war.

The Guardian’s political editor, Michael White, argued that he achieved more in his role as Foreign Secretary than we have been led to believe.

The Times, meanwhile, led with a personal tribute by his long-time political enemy, Gordon Brown. It appears that their long running Shakespearean feud (Cook could not remember how it had begun) had cooled considerably in recent years.

The Times also suggested that the largest single obstacle to his career was his looks:

"He had every qualification to lead his party except one — which he himself acknowledged — his face did not fit… His colleagues believed his appearance would gain no votes, and might well produce ridicule. With his springy red hair, pointed beard and prominent eyes, ears and nose, Cook seemed destined to be lampooned as a garden gnome."

The Mirror highlighted Cook’s determination to stand by his principles on the war, a quality which many critics suggest the modern-day politicians lack. Its tribute also emphasised the idea that Cook’s stance reflected the opinion of mainstream British society.

In the international press, the Los Angeles Times emphasised his role as an anti-war protester whilst Spain’s El Mundo lamented the passing of one of Britain’s most prominent MPs.

While most of the obituaries and commentaries concentrate on his role in the lead up to the Iraq war, the following link from the blog KOSOVAREPORT highlights his legacy as Foreign Secretary.

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