Would things have been different if Robin Cook had been still alive?
If this had been a normal Wednesday then at noon Tony Blair and David Cameron would have been facing each other across the house at Prime Minister’s Questions. With the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, being in semi-open revolt against Blair’s line then there would have been a lot for the Tory leader and Ming Campbell to get their teeth into.
For the one time when PMQs can really be tough for Tony is when public splits in his cabinet have emerged. The only challenge for David Cameron would have been that he would have had to have a line on the crisis and that might not have been so easy.
What’s interesting is that there is so much more vocal criticism within Labour about Blair following the Bush pro-Israeli position than there ever was over him doing the same over Iraq.
Of course there were Cabinet resignations and big parliamentary rebellions in 2003 but the scale of concern today is at a much higher level. Then Blair at least had the comfort of the public coming round to “supporting our boys” when the invasion finally started.
Maybe this reflects that his position is so much less certain and what we are seeing is the final phase of the Tony Blair premiership. It is as if Tony Blair knows that there is little time left and he is not going to compromise what are clearly firmly entrenched positions on world issues.
Earlier in the week the Mole column in the increasingly interesting First Post online paper made this assertion about Blair “… he can be grateful for one thing: whatever cabinet opposition he faces, he at least no longer has to face the formidable forensic skills of the late Robin Cook – for if Cook had been around, odds on, Blair would have been forced out by now.”
There’s probably something in this. If Cook had been still alive he would hardly have been off our TV screens with insights and the well thought out rhetoric undermining Blair’s position. Cook’s principled resignation ahead of the Iraq would have have given his observations so much more authority.
A big issue must be how long the conflict is going to last. If there’s no resolution before Labour’s conference in September then Blair has a massive challenge. I cannot see his Manchester speech compromising in any way his pro-Bush strategy. If delegates and the party don’t like it then they can lump it.
Free of the burdens of office Blair could continue his mission with the backing, no doubt, of a well-funded foundation in his name.
I’m sticking with my betting position on a 2006 departure.