The Point of Departure : Why One of Britain's Leading Politicians Resigned over Tony Blair's Decision to Go to War in Iraq
On 17 March 2003, Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary, resigned from the Cabinet in protest against the coming war in Iraq. His resignation speech against that war prompted the first standing ovation in the history of the House and marked the end of the ministerial career of one of Labour's most brilliant politicians. His arguments against that war are of profound interest and importance to American readers.
For the two years prior to his resignation, Robin Cook kept a diary, a personal record of Labour's second term, that forms the core of this narrative. The Point of Departure is Robin Cook's unvarnished account of this dramatic period in British political history. Though surprised by his abrupt dismissal in 2001 as Foreign Secretary, he became determined to effect the changes in Parliamentary democracy that he believed were essential if Parliament was to move into the twenty-first century. As Tony Blair told Cook on offering him leadership of the House of Commons, "This is the job for you."
Drawing on firsthand experiences in the Commons and the Cabinet, of encounters in conferences and corridors and late-night conversations, Cook details his gathering disillusionment with Tony Blair's change of direction, which he believes to be profoundly mistaken, and, above all, the change in foreign policy that led the United Kingdom away from its destiny in Europe and into participation in President Bush's war in Iraq.
This is the inside story of a government in power -- and of the tensions between those who govern. But above all it is the story of a politician who genuinely wanted to bring democracy closer to the people, but who saw a government increasingly detached from the values of himself and his party, and who developed a growing conviction that the government position on Iraq was morally, diplomatically, and politically wrong.
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Simon & Schuster
December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from The Point of Departure by Robin Cook
In my resignation speech in March 2003 I said that Tony Blair is the most successful Labour leader in my lifetime. I hope that the following pages fairly present some of the strengths and successes which make him such a dominant political figure, as well as the reasons why ultimately I could not continue to serve in his Cabinet. He deserves every credit for establishing Labour as the party of economic competence, for reversing a generation of neglect in the public services and for achieving more than any previous Prime Minister in promoting Britain's place in Europe, until the hurricane over his support for the war on Iraq blew him off course. I also find it admirable, indeed astonishing, that he remains a normal human being after six years at Number 10 under pressures that no one who has not seen them at first hand can imagine. I want him to continue as our leader, and I certainly want him to be successful in recovering the support of those electors who have left Labour.
It is easy to exaggerate the current electorate difficulties of his government. The remarkable truth remains that on its sixth anniversary in office Labour retained a lead in most opinion polls that no previous government had enjoyed in its mid-term period. The problem is not that people are unwilling to vote Labour, but that their enthusiasm for it has drained away. Labour has lost the political momentum of the historic landslide that propelled it into government and is now becalmed in a second term marked by caution rather than radicalism. Labour's current doldrums is the product of New Labour's strategy of stripping the party bare of any value that may prove a negative, but failing to fill the gap.
Political movements that leave their mark on history do so because they shape the political culture of society to their values. By that test New Labour is in danger of leaving no mark behind despite a combination of Labour's record length in office with Labour's record majority in office.
The crisis for myself and many other Labour supporters arose from the commitment of Britain as junior partner in the US invasion of Iraq. But Tony Blair's alliance with George Bush is symptomatic of a wider problem from New Labour's lack of ideological anchor. Tony approached relations with the incoming US Administration as a question of power politics. He never comprehended the perplexity he would cause his supporters at home by becoming the trusty partner of the most reactionary US Administration in modern times. It was always inevitable that such an unlikely alliance would put him at odds with many in the coalition that had elected Labour to office.