compulsory reading, Iraq

Downing Street, Number 1441

Robin Cook, former British Foreign Minister and since June 2001 Leader of the House of Commons [and in this position the immediate ministerial superior of Ben Bradshaw, the MP in whose Parliamentary office I worked in 2001] resigned from the British cabinet as as a consequence of Tony Blair’s apparent decision to send British troops to war solely based on UNSC resolution 1441 – [from Blair’s reply to Cook’s letter of resignation – ]

“The government is staying true to Resolution 1441. Others, in the face of continuing Iraqi non-compliance, are walking away from it.”

I’m sure he wasn’t referring to Cook with that last sentence, as he is clearly not walking away. Quite to the opposite, he literally rose through the ranks of the House to deliver his resignation speech from the back-benches.

If you have 11 minutes, watch his speech. Actually, watch it even if you don’t have 11 minutes.

Cook eloquently lays out the case for more inspections and against warNow! in what the BBC’s political correspondent Andrew Marr claims was –
“[w]ithout doubt one of the most effective brilliant resignation speeches in modern British politics.”

While I am not too sure what his resignation as well as his speech will mean for tomorrow’s Commons vote on Iraq, I am sure it will have some effect. The Parliamentry opposition against warNow! will likely rally around him as he has pointed out that he is very much committed to a continued Blair leadership of the Labour Party.

Recently, it seeemed that Blair supporters have been able to rally back-bench support for the government’s case given that some OldLabour MPs had speculated a bit too publicly about a possible leadership challenge on the day after.

Cook is offering NewLabour back-benchers a convenient way to show their opposition to Blair’s position on Iraq issue without signalling to the remaining OldLabour faction that they would suppport a leadership challenge. This, the BBC online’s Nick Assinder believes, will not help Tony Blair’s sleep tonight –

“The prime minister, who was not in the chamber, may have felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as Mr Cook ended with a call for the Commons to stop the war with its vote on Tuesday night.”

I doubt Blair will lose his case tomorrow, but chances are, a majority will clearly depend on Conservative votes. I guess no explanation is needed as to why it is a huge problem for a PM to be backed by the opposition instead of his own Parliamentary party.

But even in case the rebellion will be less pronounced than commentators expect, and even if the war will take a favourable course – I doubt Blair’s decision to invest almost all his political capital into supporting the US government’s case for regime change will ever pay off. Even without a possible future leadership challenge, Blair will never again be the political star he used to be. Governing will be a lot harder for him in the future than it has been before. There will be too many people wanting to cash in the blank cheques he had to sign for support.

I suppose, the days when flashing a personal invitation to Downing Street was in itself an important political property have passed. Certainly interesting times on Whitehall.