Magazine article The Spectator

The Point of Departure

Magazine article The Spectator

The Point of Departure

Article excerpt

Not a party to deception THE POINT OF DEPARTURE by Robin Cook Simon & Schuster, L20, pp. 368, ISBN 0743252551

The first thing that strikes one when reading Robin Cook's revelations is that his diary was not written for posterity. It is designed for immediate consumption. The foreign secretary must have been writing his apologia pro vita sua at the Cabinet table. As pre-emptive retaliation, it succeeds admirably, not least because he freely interlards the daily narrative with 20-20 hindsight commentaries that take up a third of the text.

Cook is determined to emerge as the man of honour from the debacle of Iraq: the only Cabinet minister to put his money where his mouth was, and therefore worthy of a permanent place in the pantheon of Labour heroes. But he is unwilling to take the obvious next step: to destabilise Tony Blair, the architect of our illegal war. Perhaps he still has hopes of returning to high office, or of acting as kingmaker when the Prime Minister quits or finally succumbs to his heart complaint.

The former foreign secretary is plainly obsessed with Blair, and offers many sideways glances that could only have come from years of close proximity to Teflon Tony. We learn that Blair is a compulsive shoe-polisher, a habit Cook attributes to his public school upbringing. That Blair is always late is well known to every lobby correspondent, but we did not know until Cookie told us that the Prime Minister defied advice not to get involved with the Hinduja brothers. As might be gathered from his countenance, Blair is also a 'sun-worshipper' and likes to keep his guests in the shade while conducting talks in the rose garden of No. 10.

Discovering these nuggets is a bit like panning for gold in the first half of the book, which deals largely with reform of the Commons and the Lords, both subjects dear to Cook's heart, but which could usefully have been left to another volume. Or not touched at all.

Only when the war against Iraq begins to loom large over the political scene does this book become required reading. As early as March 2002, Blair is privately warning Labour's Parliamentary Committee that 'I cannot offer the comfort that no military action will be taken'. Plainly, Mr No-Reverse-Gear was set on war from the very beginning, knowing that Bush intended to invade and not knowing how to disengage. …

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