Sunday, August 14, 2005


The hypocrisy endemic in public life peaks when a famous politician dies.

Irrespective of whether he or she (it is still usually a he) is cut off in his prime or expires in old age, the death invariably inspires eulogies which take up hours, even special programmes, on television and long columns of newsprint.
People who may have loathed the so-and-so in life spout torrents praising him once he’s gone. The fact that he may have been a self-obsessed, vain, pompous, arrogant, back-stabbing, marriage-wrecking womaniser is air brushed out.
The finest political achievement of Robin Cook, who died last weekend from a heart attack on a mountaineering holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, was undoubtedly his brilliant forensic analysis of the Scott Report into arms for Iraq when Labour was in Opposition.
In Government he was an unlikely Foreign Secretary from the start and made a right prat of himself when he announced he would promote an ‘ethical’ foreign policy. I doubt if even he knew what he was talking about. But in what was to become the pattern for the Blair regime, it made ‘feel good’ headlines.
He had already been demoted to Leader of the House of Commons and by all accounts didn’t care that much for the job when he resigned on the principle that he could not support the war in Iraq. He seemed to be on the verge of tears when he sat down after his resignation speech. But in her no-holes-barred account of her marriage, Cook’s first wife, a brilliant and distinguished haematologist, told the world that her husband’s principles loomed less large as he climbed the greasy pole.
Whatever, his resignation was a fine, well-timed piece of theatre by a politician who always had an eye for the main chance and seized the opportunity to wound the man who had wounded and demoted him, Prime Minister Tony Blair. It also made him a hero to many anti-war protestors and improved the adulterous image which had haunted him since the debacle ending his first marriage.
Cook, serially unfaithful throughout that marriage, suddenly and brutally ditched his wife of 28 years when he decided it would be better for his career if he married his mistress instead of being branded a ‘love rat’ by the tabloid press, who were about to break the story of his affair with his secretary.
Apart from taking Britain into the then Common Market, Sir Edward Heath, who died last month, will be best remembered for disastrously losing the General Election he called over the miners’ strike in 1974.

Once he had also lost the leadership of the Conservative Party to Margaret Thatcher, he wrote off the last thirty years of his life sulking on the back benches, a Grand Sourpuss so consumed by bitterness he made no further useful contribution to British public life and provided only acid comic relief sniping at the woman who had replaced him.
The sad truth about most politicians is that they are frequently more flawed than other human beings because they often become unbalanced by an obsessive lust for power and, unless they can carve new careers in the media or in business, are unable to handle the heartbreak of its inevitable loss. Because the stakes are so high, the wounds in politics can run deeper than in most other professions and sometimes, as in the case of Edward Heath, never heal.
Heath was reported to have had a ‘good death’ at home surrounded by people he loved. The saddest thing is that he died with a still broken heart because he could never forgive and move on but remained frozen in the past.
The time to praise a famous man is during his life, when he may need it to lift his spirits in bad times and help him to carry on, not after his death when it is no longer any use to him. But rivals are often too afraid to utter a good word in life in case it damages their own chances.
Robin Cook may well have died with hope of a return to big time politics some day in the heart that fatally failed him on the lonely mountainside.
At least for once Tony Blair did not behave like a hypocrite and did the right thing by staying away on holiday and not showing up on Friday at the Church of Scotland’s holiest shrine, the grand High Kirk of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, which was hijacked for the atheist Cook’s funeral — a ceremony that took on the air of a soap opera when a racing tipster in a purple jacket, like a parody of John Knox, attacked Blair from the pulpit.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005 All Rights Reserved