Cook urges voters to resist the desire to punish PM

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Indy Politics

Robin Cook was in his element yesterday as Labour's "Mr Heineken", refreshing the anti-war voters that Tony Blair cannot reach.

Robin Cook was in his element yesterday as Labour's "Mr Heineken", refreshing the anti-war voters that Tony Blair cannot reach.

The former foreign secretary was in the marginal north London suburb of Harrow-on-the-Hill trying to persuade first-time voters that, whatever their opposition to the war in Iraq, they should still vote Labour.

"You might feel good the day after the election," he warned critics of the war thinking of giving Tony Blair a bloody nose. "But you will have to live with the result for five years and that's a very sobering thought."

In recent days, Mr Cook - one of the most vocal critics of the war in Iraq - has toured the north of England in support of ministers and other candidates whose position on Iraq he fundamentally opposed.

Gareth Thomas, the Labour candidate in Harrow West and number two to Hilary Benn at the Department for International Development, backed the war but is still grateful for Mr Cook's support.

"Iraq is an issue on the doorstep," he said. "One of the reasons I invited Robin to the constituency was to help get through the argument that there is a choice at the election. I'm happy to be accountable for how I voted. Robin can talk to people who feel strongly about Iraq in a different way."

During his visit, Mr Cook addressed an audience of sixth formers - a group Labour fears will depart in droves to the Liberal Democrats - at St Dominic's sixth form college.

Mr Cook won respect from his audience, despite their polite but repeated and pointed questions about trust. "He was good, he stood up very well," said one member of his audience.

"I'm not going to pretend it's a perfect government," Mr Cook told the sixth formers. "It's a government with which I have my own differences, not notably on Iraq.

"Charles Kennedy says the election is a referendum on Iraq, but you have referendums before you act, not two years afterwards.

"This is an election about who runs Britain for the next five years."

He pointed to Britain's efforts to cancel Third World debt, arguing that Tony Blair can only chair the G8 summit next month if he is returned to power.

Mr Cook is adamant that voters still look him in the eye, despite their objections to Labour. Whether that translates into votes next week, only time will tell.

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