Death of Robin Cook, an honest Labour Party liberal

Submitted by Anon on 16 August, 2005 - 10:27

Bourgeois politicians praising other bourgeois politicians, even dead ones, is in the same category as self-praise. And as the saying goes, “self-praise is no praise”.

Their “adversarial” posturing against each other. even where they agree fundamentally, is a sham. Why should we believe them when they belatedly discover that a departed colleague was an honest person, a humane presence, a great man who might-have-been, someone who, though on the surface an opportunist scumbag, was really a person of deep and unbudgeable integrity.

Robin Cook died never knowing how highly esteemed he was in Westminster. Tony Blair loved him. So did the newspapers which had mercilessly pilloried him for years because of his “garden gnome” appearance. He was a man of deep integrity, they now insist.

But in fact Cook did behave like an honest man, and a man of principle.

He resigned from the government two years ago on a matter of principle. He disagreed with Blair’s policy of poodling after George Bush into war with Iraq. He didn’t think it was necessary. He didn’t think it could achieve their stated objectives. He thought it would not diminish but boost “international terrorism”.

Others in the Cabinet probably thought that too, but only Cook and Junior Minister John Denham resigned.

Compare Cook’s behaviour with that of the indecently indecisive caterwauling of the “conscience-challenged” careerist Clare Short, who stayed in the government during the war and then resigned in a fit of pique, and you see that the conventional praise showered on the corpse of a dead politician by other politicians is not in this case just a reflex of political hypocrisy.

Cook appeared on Alliance For Workers Liberty-organised platforms to support free trade unions in the Stalinist bloc in the late 1980s, when that cause was neither fashionable nor popular on the “left”.

But Cook’s were left-liberal, not socialist principles. An apparently hardish left in the early 80s, he was one of those who joined the right in electing Neil Kinnock as leader of the Labour Party (he was Kinnock’s campaign manager for the leadership bid) with a brief to defeat and isolate the serious left and trundle the party rightwards.

In control of the Labour Party, the coalition of soft-lefts and Old Labour right-wingers like Roy Hattersley made defeating the Tories their be-all and end-all. That came to mean defeating them on almost any political basis. By the mid 90s it meant defeating them on the basis of Blair’s and Brown’s version of Thatcherite politics.

When Kinnock resigned after losing two General Elections in a row, and then when his successor John Smith died suddenly in 1994, Blair and Brown seized the chance to turn Labour into a Thatcherite party.

Cook, and for that matter Kinnock, most likely did not intend that to be the outcome of their drive to “modernise” the Labour Party, but they prepared the way for it.

Kinnock’s deputy Roy Hattersley is now, though still in his politics an Old Labour right-winger, a critic of Blair’s government from the left. In his Guardian column recently, he recalled his shock at hearing David Blunkett — a prominent local government “left” of the early ’80s — in a Shadow Cabinet meeting, discussing policy options entirely from the point of view of dishing the Tories, without regard for what was right or wrong, principled or unprincipled.

The dominant people were, in varying degrees of shamelessness, all like that. Blair’s “new Labour”, neo-Thatcherite government is the result.

Cook showed himself to be a man of principle over Iraq: but his principles had allowed him to be part of a government which kept Tory anti-union legislation, laws which Blair himself described as the most restrictive in Western Europe, on the statute books.

We need women and men of principle — but working-class socialist principle!