Welcome back, my fellow noders.

Although not a whole lot has happened to me in the downtime (well, not much interesting enough to write about) I did have the pleasure of seeing Robin Cook speak in Leeds recently, promoting his new book Point of Departure. For those who don't know of him, you'd best read the second writeup here to get an idea of what the guy is like, but the short story is he was a Cabinet Minister in "New" Labour before resigning over Iraq because he didn't believe Britain should be going to war.

His book is partially about his attempts to get the House of Lords reformed, which to be honest I'm not too knowledgeable about, or interested in. However, it also contains a full account of everything of relevance which took place in Cabinet meetings in the run up to the War. Since Mr. Cook is now a backbencher, he has a lot of freedom to write about private conversations with Tony Blair, as well as other interesting things which, were he still in the Cabinet, he wouldn't have been able to say.

Although I must confess I didn't buy the book (well, my Dad, who I went with, didn't really want it, and I had no money with me, so...), I have to say seeing a person for the first time in the flesh as opposed to on the television (more often than not having his voice / womanising tendencies made fun of by Bremner, Bird and Fortune or Dead Ringers) was an interesting experience. What he had to say was even more interesting - even though I'm a Liberal type myself, he's definitely the kind of person who would make me vote Labour. Maybe.

After reading a few extracts from Point of Departure (which is essentially his Diary from the time, along with some musings written later on) and some more of his comments about the events, he took questions from the assembled audience (which I would guess was about 100 people, give or take) and some of the answers given were very interesting. The most common question was "Why is an apparently quite sensible Prime Minister going against most of the principles that we thought he stood for and allying himself so closely with "a far right neo conservative fascist extremist*"" and the answer always given seemed to be that Tony "Trust Me" Blair is very comfortable being the best friend of the most powerful nation in the world, and he doesn't seem to be too bothered about what he does, so long as he's remembered for improving the world** he doesn't care what he does to get there. None of that is really new, Satire shows and other media has been saying for ages he's only bothered about his place in History.. but to hear it from someone who actually knew the man well is kind of surreal. It's not often a politician speaks out like this.

Pleasingly, like (I reckon) almost all of the crowd, Cook is a fervent opposer of American Foreign Policy. He has serious problems with Dubya, but as he says "If you think George W. Bush is bad, you should meet some of the other people who are really running the show.. they're really scary!". He then recounts the tale of him meeting Donald Rumsfeld on some goodwill mission to the States shortly after the, uhh, election was "won" in 2000. Apparently, Rumsfeld answers everything in a one or two word answer, so the two sat in a room in silence for minutes at a time, and everytime Cook attempts to start a conversation, he was met with absolutely nothing.

I even got to ask him a question myself, and as opposed to everyone else who decided to start their question with "Labour was a party born out of the trade unions back in... blah... strong tradition of.... blah.... so anyway, my question is..", I simply said "What are the chances, in your opinion, of a Labour third term, and who do you think will be leading the party then?". He said that he thought the chances of a third Labour Term were quite strong, since the Conservatives have been in disarray recently (kicking out their leader because he's about as forceful in a debate as Jelly)... before completely sidestepping the rest of the question. He had a scheme of taking a bunch of questions, writing them all down, then answering them in a big long go to speed things up. So I don't think he forgot my question, I rather suspect he didn't want to tie himself to any particular leader.. perhaps he has similar disagreements with Gordon Brown. Perhaps he's thinking of trying to become the leader of the Party himself. Who knows.

Overall, I came away from the evening very impressed, and I have to say, liking the man a lot more than I thought I would. Although I haven't yet picked up the book, I may deem it worth a borrow should I see it at the library any time soon. If you're also British, pissed off at Tony Blair, and looking for some answers, I expect you could do much worse than to pick up a copy.

* - not my words, someone else in the crowd said that. But I have to say, I agree most strongly..
** - whether anything he's done recently has improved the world is a matter for debate.