Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Was Robin Cook the Candidate I Never Had?

Living in West Lothian I was intrigued by Mark Thompson's article this morning that was hypothesising that Robin Cook may, had he survived, have defected to the Lib Dems. It would have been one photocall that both myself and Charles Dundas, his opponent from 2005, as the prominent faces of West Lothian Liberal Democrats would have been called in for. But would it have actually happened?

Mark bases his premise on the Comment is Free article by John Kampfner in today's Guardian, who describes his political fulcrum as based firmly around Robin Cook's left liberal leanings. Like Cook in the run up to 2005 he was disgruntled with Labour, but while Cook stayed in the party at that time Kampfner supported the Lib Dems. Robin did get on well with both Charles and myself in our dealings with him, and indeed his last letter to me was one of agreement.

But we're five years on and many of the mainstream commentators are saying that the Iraq influence has run its course. Kampfner however, does point out another driving force that progressives who have or had supported Labour may well be thinking of supporting the Lib Dems in 2010. He bases it on "a more fundamental appraisal of Labour's record, together with a positive assessment of the Lib Dems' platform".

"[Liberal Democrat] analysis of the failures of the deregulated market has been consistently, and painfully, accurate. Their tax reform plans, taking 4 million low-paid workers out of tax altogether, are the most redistributive of any party, alongside green taxes, a "mansion tax" on high-value properties anthe closing of tax loopholes (on pensions and capital gains) exploited by the rich. The Lib Dem approach to criminal justice, human rights, foreign and social policy is close to mine."

From my personal experience all of those values would certainly be held with Robin. So is that core of liberal-left looking our way. One wonders what that would mean if 30 years on from the Gang of four they had a leader in Robin Cook who would have supported all of the above, plus other areas in cleaning up politics. Of course it was he that Blair had chosen alongside Bob Maclennan to put Labour's view in the Joint Consultative Committee on Constitutional Reform prior to 1997. So events of the last 12 months and his own parties inaction may have persuaded to join the party offering serious consideration to the issue 12 years on. What if he too had left the Labour movement to find his feet as a true progressive within the Lib Dems?

Locally I think it would have made Livingston an interesting contest. One wonders who would have been the candidate, Devine wouldn't have been elected in September 2005 and wouldn't have been in the mire he is in. Looking at his record I don't think he would have followed Cook to our party. Would Graeme Morrice have managed to take the position of Labour candidate he now holds? One thing is certain I would personally be pounding the streets of Livingston trying to hold the seat for our man, and persuading those who had backed him before that he hadn't changed only the party they supported had. Pretty much the same message that Lib Dems have been putting to or hearing from Labour voters for a while really.

It is an interesting hypothesis of where Cook would stand on a number of key issues since 2005. I would love to stood on the doorstep of Clifton Terrace or at some location in Livingston flanking him and the party leader as we welcomed him into our fold. What I suspect is more likely to have been the outcome though is that even now he would still have been fighting to get Labour unto his course, he may even have been somewhat successful making it harder for the Conservatives to win or the Lib Dems to take Labour gains.

But the demise of progressive Labour politics is clearly made by the party's slogan for this election. They're saying "A Future Fair for All" not "Fairness We've Delivered".

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