It must be an odd career being a politician – whatever you do somebody will disagree. After all, there is there is always somebody with a different coloured rosette. If your opinions are not being shouted down in some debating chamber due to political differences then you run the risk of being called self-serving. It’s one job where you know you will not be popular everywhere.
So is Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary and now former leader of the House of Commons, a man of integrity or self-serving? I don’t know him so I can’t answer that. What I do believe is his resignation speach last night was one of the best speeches I have ever seen by a politician. It wasn’t bitter (although there was a sadness to it) and there were no personal attacks (even though he resigned because he disagreed with Government policy). He is not leaving his post because of some scandal but because he feels he can’t continue to serve in a Cabinet that supports a war he does not. With it he loses the trappings of office (house, car, staff?) and returns to the back benches.
I don’t know much about Robin Cook. I know that last night’s address was remarkable. He was eloquent and appeared to speak with a sincerity and conviction you do not see often in the modern politician. His argument (regardless of your stance) was delivered with a calm clarity that is, also, unusual. I admired the fact that he spoke to the House of Commons before the press and seemed, genuinely, to respect the workings of the British democracy. Isn’t it a shame more politicians don’t do that?
Now, some have suggested throughout the day that he was positioning himself for a role if all goes wrong for Tony Blair. But doesn’t taking a stance and having the integrity to declare when you believe something is right or wrong mean that you are positioning yourself. You can’t do anything about that. If he is proved to have been right then it’s only proper that people turn to him in the months to come. If he is wrong at least he has his integrity intact. If more of our elected representatives cared more for the policies than public opinion or their image and more spoke with the passion that Robin Cook did, I think British politics would be a better place.
Perhaps Claire Short should take another night to think about it.