Debate on Robin Cook's memory designed to embarrass Blair

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Anti-war campaigners are demanding a debate on a motion dedicated to the memory of the former foreign secretary, who died of a heart attack last month. The resolution would play a part in a wider campaign to secure a timetable for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Last night, the party's conference organisers were accused of using stage management to avoid the row spilling out into the open at the conference. The Prime Minister has warned a private meeting of Labour's ruling national executive that he does not want the conference to be overshadowed by Iraq. Mr Blair instead wants to focus on public service reforms, intended to be his political legacy when Gordon Brown eventually takes over.

Conference organisers are trying to head off pressure for a debate on the Cook motion and Iraq by telling his former allies that the party wants to honour the memory of Mr Cook along with Mo Mowlam and Lord Callaghan, the former Labour Prime Minister who also died this year, with a video at the start of the conference on Sunday.

That is unacceptable to the activists. Neal Lawson, chairman of Compass, a democratic left pressure group, who tabled the Cook motion, said: "Robin would have been feeling totally vindicated if he were still alive by the events in Iraq. This time last year I shared a platform with him and he was calling for a timetable for withdrawal. Here we are a year on and it is just beginning to force its way up the agenda."

The proposed motion highlights Mr Cook's resignation over the war, his opposition to unilateral military action, and his rejection of many Blairite reforms, including the expansion of the role of private companies in the NHS. The Labour MP Harry Cohen said: "It is time for Iraq to be properly and fully debated at the Labour conference."

* Iraq is a bigger disaster than Vietnam and Tony Blair should resign, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said yesterday. The Suez crisis "was modest in comparison", said the Conservative leadership contender, who opposed the invasion.

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