Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
George Robertson: A safe pair of hands as a minister
By Political Correspondent Guto Hari
"He had a good war!"
As far as Downing Street was concerned, that should have clinched it on the question of who should be Nato's new secretary-general.
George Robertson, in the prime minister's words, has "exactly the right mix of defence expertise, along with the political and diplomatic skills necessary for the job".
A man who had almost no experience of the armed forces until he was in charge of them, displayed an impressive grip on their capabilities.
Though he never had a particular interest in military matters, he defended Nato in the days when Labour wanted to leave the alliance and opposed unilateral nuclear disarmament when the offical party policy advocated it.
Against the Labour grain
A pragmatic right-winger in traditional Labour terms, he was prominent in the battle to oust the left-wing extremists who infiltrated Labour in the early eighties, describing the leaders of Militant as a "cancer" which had to be cut off.
He has also consistently gone against the grain of his party by supporting restrictions on abortion.
Once accused of being "too-American", he is, nevertheless, one of the most passionate pro-Europeans in the government.
Some tipped him to succeed Robin Cook as foreign secretary, and the Kosovo crisis certainly boosted the profile and standing of a man widely seen as capable but uninspiring; decent but a little dull.
Defence has never been an issue on which Labour has scored high in terms of public perception.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Mr Robertson is that the generals and the public are no longer anxious. Difficult cuts were handed delicately by him and a new vision for the forces outlined with clarity and conviction.
Nominated by Tony Blair last Friday, he said it was a great honour to be considered for a job which he has described as one of the most important in today's world.
Mr Robertson recognised there were formidable challenges ahead but made it clear he relished the prospect of tackling them.
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