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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 August 2005, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
Cook's contribution will be missed
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

The death of Robin Cook not only deprives the Labour Party of one of its greatest figures, it will also diminish the House of Commons.

Robin Cook
Mr Cook was often talked of as a leadership contender
The former foreign secretary was one of the very few MPs - on either the back or front benches - who demanded attention when he spoke in the chamber.

His piercing intellect and ability to go to the very core of an issue, combined with a devastating ability to take his enemies to pieces was never better displayed than during the debate on the Scott report into the arms to Iraq affair during which he flayed the Conservative government.

The Commons witnessed it again just two years ago when he delivered his resignation speech after quitting the cabinet in protest at the war on Iraq.

And it was that act of principle that gave Mr Cook a new standing amongst Labour MPs and in the Commons itself.

He had always been respected, even admired - particularly by the left - but his inability to attract a "gang" around him often left him politically alone in times of need.

Enemies

That was never more obvious than during the revelation about his affair with his then secretary, Gaynor, which saw him left in the hands of the Downing Street spin machine as it attempted to minimise the consequential damage to the government.

Many in Westminster are also convinced that Gordon Brown would have offered him one of the big jobs in his cabinet

And that affair, and the subsequent revelations by his ex-wife Margaret, continued to dog him right up until his death.

He also had the ability to rub people up the wrong way and appear aloof, even haughty - one moment friendly and humorous, the next cold and dismissive.

He had made his fair share of enemies over the years, most notably Chancellor Gordon Brown with whom he had a famous falling out.

But the two had recently put that behind them and were once again seen as natural allies.

It also seemed likely Mr Cook's resignation would, in the long term, have given his political career a significant lift.

Parliamentarian

He never delivered the sort of performance in the cabinet that his supporters had hoped for and, after his demotion from foreign secretary to Commons leader, his star was clearly on the wane.

Ironically he was widely regarded as a success in the Commons job and became regarded as probably the greatest parliamentarian of his time.

Many in Westminster are also convinced that Gordon Brown would have offered him one of the big jobs in his cabinet if, as widely expected, he replaces Tony Blair as prime minister.

And, of course, there had been times when Mr Cook had been talked of as a leadership contender himself.

But, once again, that inability to attract a steadfast following always made that unlikely - a fact he appeared to have accepted himself.

Nonetheless, there are many within the Labour party who will be devastated that the man they saw as their natural leader - even their hope for the future direction of the party - has gone.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch a report on Mr Cook's time in the political spotlight




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