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Sunday, August 07, 2005

One Cook too few....

American political science is filled with anglophiles, and I count myself among that group -- especially after my two year stay in Northern Ireland and the resulting exposure I had to the UK media. While part of the atttraction to things "anglo" is rooted in our discipline's (and country's) genetic attachment to British political institutions, there is also something quite admirable about the quality of the politicians who emerge through the UK party system. Articulate and thoughtful for the most part, they put our political elite to shame when it comes to sheer rhetorical talent. The politically informed in the UK, of course, are less impressed than we with most of their leaders, and they have a difficult time understnading why Americans are so taken with the likes of Tony Blair.

I bring this up because on Saturday the British lost one of the truly exemplary politicians of the current era, Robin Cook. Cook died on an outing in Scotland -- actually while walking near the summit of Ben Stack.

He was a controversial figure whose private life became the subject of scandal awhile back; but he remained nevertheless a highly visible member of Labour who once served as Foreign Minister and leader of the Commons -- a post he resigned in protest of the Blair government's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.

That all happened before I even got to Northern Ireland, but there was rarely a week that went by over the past two years that did not include some comment or commentary by Mr. Cook on some issue or other. His OpEds often made headlines, and he was somewhat of a celebrity who would pop up on the tellie or in some of the more frivolous articles (e.g., during the last election he ocntributed a piece on what kind of car a Labour MP should be driving...).

As more or less the vocal spokesperson for the Labour backbenchers, he was not shy about expressing his opinions and the media obviously sought him out on every occasion they could. Despite being blessed with the stature of a garden gnome figure (or perhaps because of it), he developed into a surprisingly telegenic personality. It is unlikely that he would have ever had another shot at a leadership position in Labour -- his time had passed as Blair and Brown took center stage in the early 1990s -- but the future of Labour will certainly be different without his presence....

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