Cook, Robin (Finlayson) 1946-
COOK, Robin (Finlayson) 1946-
PERSONAL: Born February 28, 1946; son of a schoolteacher; married; wife's name, Margaret (divorced). Politics: Liberal. Hobbies and other interests: Follower of horse racing.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Politician and author. British government, served as foreign secretary, 1997-2001. Leader of House of Commons and lord president of the council, 2001-03. President, Foreign Policy Centre; president, Party of European Socialists.
(With others) Defence Review: An Anti-White Paper, Fabian Society (London, England), 1975.
(With Dan Smith) What Future in NATO?, Fabian Society (London, England), 1978.
(Editor, with Gordon Brown) Scotland, the RealDivide: Poverty and Deprivation in Scotland, Mainstream (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1983.
Life Begins at Forty: In Defence of the NHS, Fabian Society (London, England), 1988.
The Point of Departure (autobiography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: A longtime member of Great Britain's Labour Party, Robin Cook was described on the BBC News Web site as "one of the Commons' most intelligent members, and . . . one of its most skilled debaters." Cook's political career, however, essentially came to a halt in March of 2003 when he resigned from Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet in protest over the invasion of Iraq by Great Britain and the United States. His resignation speech resulted in the first recorded standing ovation in the history of the British House of Parliament. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Bronwen Maddox observed that the "speech was rightly praised for its clear statement of personal principle, without personal venom." Cook subsequently wrote The Point of Departure, detailing his final two years among the Labour Party elite and describes his growing unrest with the party and eventual resignation.
The primary purpose of the book is to provide the author's inside perspective on the 2003 Iraq invasion and war, which Cook has extensively criticized as misdirected, calling it morally, politically, and diplomatically wrong.
Early on in The Point of Departure, Cook reflects that "Tony Blair's alliance with [U.S. President] George Bush is symptomatic of a wider problem from New Labour's lack of ideological anchor." Part of the differences between Blair and Cook showed up as early as 1997 after Cook was appointed foreign secretary and wanted to add an "ethical dimension to foreign policy," as noted by Maddox in the Times Literary Supplement. Cook's insistence on pursuing human rights issues and discouraging arms sales led to his further alienation from Blair and the party, eventually resulting in his demotion to leader of the House of Commons in 2001. In the first half of the book, Cook discusses his ideological conflicts and his ideas about reform of the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords. The rest of the book is based largely on Cook's diaries from 2001 up to his resignation. Using these diaries, along with other writings, Cook provides an insider's view of the British political scene as the government rushes headlong into an invasion of Iraq. As plans were being drawn up for war, Cook became increasingly disillusioned with what he viewed as a cynical outlook and, as described by a Kirkus Reviews contributor, an "oh-well attitude toward the persistent failure of Allied intelligence to find weapons of mass destruction." By mid-February of 2003, Cook had decided that he would resign if Blair went to war without the backing of a U.N. resolution supporting the invasion.
Writing in the Spectator, Paul Routledge noted, "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." Routledge, who pointed out that Cook includes "a lyrical account of how he came to his decision" to resign, went on to comment that the first half of the book could, for the most part, have been left out. He added, "Only when the war against Iraq begins to loom large over the political scene does this book become required reading." In the Times Literary Supplement, Maddox remarked that he felt too much of the diaries focus on Cook himself and also noted that the writing "is still soaked in the sourness of someone forced to the political sidelines." A PublishersWeekly contributor found that Cook is "generally respected and polite toward Blair" and reported that Cook's stance against the war is based on "familiar arguments, but Cook expresses them well and offers a dash of much-needed humanism to a polarized world." David Pitt, writing in Booklist, commented, "The book offers . . . one man's opinion, but it presents a persuasive case that Britain went to war over the objections of the majority of its citizens."
Following the invasion of Iraq and his resignation, Cook remained an outspoken opponent of the war and critic of the Blair-led British government. Nevertheless, as reported by the Europe Intelligence Wire, he more recently commented, "Having created this immense blunder, we cannot just walk away." Cook explained also that he had no regrets about resigning. "When I resigned it was on a point of principle," he was quoted as remarking by the Europe Intelligence Wire, "because I could not support a war based on a false perspective and without international authority." Cook also reflected, "I value free speech too much to spend the rest of my political life singing from the song sheet."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cook, Robin, The Point of Departure, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, February 1, 2004, David Pitt, review of ThePoint of Departure, p. 930.
Europe Intelligence Wire, November 8, 2003, "We Need to Find a Way out of Iraq."
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of ThePoint of Departure, p. 1433.
Publishers Weekly, January 5, 2004, review of ThePoint of Departure, p. 56.
Spectator, October 25, 2003, Paul Routledge, review of The Point of Departure, p. 55.
Times Literary Supplement Web site (London, England), January 2, 2004, Bronwen Maddox, "Why Might Is Right—and Wrong."
BBC News Web site,http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (October 21, 2002), "Robin Cook."*