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August 7, 2005

Robin Cook, dead at 59

A dazzling Parliamentarian with a sometimes less than dazzling personal life, British Labour MP Cook died Saturday while hill-walking in Scotland. From The Observer:

It is somehow fitting that Robin Cook’s most memorable Parliamentary performance in a political career that spanned three-and-a-half decades should have come in a resignation speech. A mix of the keen intellect, searing debating skills and political principle which were the hallmarks of his public life, it forensically dissected Britain’s arguments for going to war against Iraq, and prompted that rarest of Commons occurrences: spontaneous, contagious applause.
… As Foreign Secretary, Cook had staunchly defended the US-UK pre-9/11 ‘containment’ policy towards Saddam. In the run-up to war, Cook resisted the effort to join early rebels - but made clear his scepticism about the immediacy of the threat from Baghdad, and his insistence that any attack must have clear UN backing.
But it was clear there would be no second UN resolution, and that war was drawing near. Before the Commons convened, he told his colleagues he had no choice but to resign. Rising to address a packed and suddenly silent chamber, he spoke in a deliberate tone of restraint that added power to his words. ‘I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support,’ Cook declared. ‘Neither the international community nor the British people is persuaded there is an urgent or compelling reason for this action in Iraq.’
When he had finished speaking, the government front bench sat in silence. But slowly, Labour critics of the war, joined by Liberal Democrats and MPs on all sides of the house, began to applaud. The applause then spread to the public gallery.

Andrew Marr, an old friend who was then the BBC’s political editor, described Cook’s speech as “without doubt one of the most effective, brilliant resignation speeches in modern British politics.” And Blair never emerged from its shadow.

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