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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 02:56 GMT 03:56 UK

UK Politics

Robertson driven by 'a safer world'

George Robertson commands cross-party admiration

"A cool and responsible personality should be at this sensitive post."

Former defence minister Alan Clark is not the only senior Tory who believes that Defence Secretary George Robertson is the ideal candidate to be Nato's new secretary general.

[ image:  ]
Michael Portillo, who occupied Mr Robertson's desk at the Ministry of Defence until Labour's 1997 election victory, also believes that the unglamorous 53-year-old Scottish MP is the person to lead the world's most powerful military alliance.

Praise from such quarters illustrates the heights to which Mr Robertson's standing has soared, both at Westminster and overseas, since the Kosovo conflict.

But even before his dignified and strong performance during Nato's campaign he was widely regarded as one of the safest pairs of hands in the Cabinet.

A Labour right-winger, who defended the nuclear deterrent even through his party's CND days, he also commands wide respect among the armed forces.

Security and stability

As Mr Robertson himself admits, society's need for security and stability have been consistent themes in his political career.

[ image: After reshaping the UK's forces Mr Robertson wants a go at Nato]
After reshaping the UK's forces Mr Robertson wants a go at Nato
He led Labour's Strategic Defence Review, which assessed how the UK's armed forces should be restructured to respond more flexibly to the challenges of the future.

And he quite clearly would relish undertaking a similar task for Nato.

"It would be a great challenge," he said in a recent interview.

"I came into politics right from the beginning wanting to make a safer world. I could now find myself in a position to deliver that for future generations."

Some commentators say that this preoccupation with order stems from his family background. He was born the son of a policeman on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.

Mr Robertson has been a witness to the horrifying consequences of when order does break down.

His three children are former pupils of the school in Dunblane where gunman Thomas Hamilton went on the rampage in 1996, murdering 16 children and their teacher.

[ image: After Dunblane Mr Robertson led the campaign to ban handguns]
After Dunblane Mr Robertson led the campaign to ban handguns
After the massacre Mr Robertson - a long-time resident of the town - acted as spokesman for the victims' families. He was also a key figure in the subsequent campaign that led to the UK ban on handguns.

Mr Robertson is more apt to put his unflappable nature down to surviving a car crash 20 years ago, when his car was hit by a Royal Navy Land Rover.

The defence secretary says that whenever he needs reassurance he looks at a photo of the wreckage that he carries in his wallet.

"If I get depressed by politics or the press, I remember it could have been a lot worse," he says

Long road to office

This is not the only reason that international acclaim is unlikely to go to his head.

His path to high office has been a long one. After graduating from Dundee University he worked as union official for workers in Scotland's whiskymaking industry.

In his twenties he became the Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party.

Mr Robertson was 32 when he was elected MP for Hamilton in 1978.

He enjoyed a brief taste of government as a ministerial aide before the Tories came to power in 1979

In his 18 years on the opposition benches he proved himself as spokesman on Scottish affairs, defence and foreign affairs.

But he made his biggest mark as Labour's spokesman on Europe.

Through adept manipulation of Parliamentary procedure he was able to highlight Tory divisions over the Maastricht Treaty to great effect.

For this he was jointly awarded the title of Parliamentarian of the Year in 1993 with Labour colleague Geoff Hoon.

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