Sunday, August 07, 2005

Robin Cook

BBC NEWS | Politics | Cook's resignation speech

It is truly sad news that Robin Cook has died during a hiking vacation in the hills of Scotland. He was undoubtedly one of the profiles of the politics of Britain, and served as Foreign Secretary between 1997 and 2001.

That was the time - among other things - of the Kosovo war. He was somewhat less than pleased with me when I on the evening of the beginning of the NATO bombning said that I thought we would see a million refugess from Kosovo in the weeks and months to come. Up until then, there had hardly been any refugess from the fighting in Kosovo.

We had a somewhat tense discussion over the issue in the always impressive room that is the office of the Foreign Secretary. I said that we will see who's right. But the key thing was that we saw eye to eye on how to get out of the situation and get a good deal for Kosovo and the region.

In the end, there were app 800 000 refugees streaming out of Kosovo during the next three months.

He was an intense and highly intelligent man. He made both friends and enemies with intensity. He was probably more Old Labour than New Labour, but very much Labour.

His perhaps most brilliant movement was the speech that he delivered in the House of Commons as he resigned from the Cabinet in opposition to its policies over Iraq. He won a standing ovation from both sides of the house for his moral clarity.

I remember seeing it live on television, and was determined during the following days to write him a letter of congratulation and admiration although I did not share many of his views. But his was a stand of principle, and he demonstrated political courage and moral principle in a way one does not see too often.

I never did write that letter, and unfortunately never saw him thereafter.

Today, there are few better ways of remembering him than re-reading that speech.