Iraq Bombings: The Sketch - PM shows the strain in face of resounding support

MOST PEOPLE, if required to read out a 25 minute speech in front of a large and potentially sceptical crowd, wouldn't put money on their ability to make it from start to finish without a single slip of the tongue. But Tony Blair could make such a bet with fair confidence that he wouldn't lose very often. It is one of the Prime Minister's less salient talents that he hardly ever makes a fluff when he reads a statement to the House, even when he departs from the fairway of his script into the rough of scribbled addenda.

Yesterday, though, as he made his statement on the bombing of Iraq, the accuracy of his transmission wasn't quite up to its usual standards - seven or eight times there was a mispronunciation or slur, or a tiny hesitation which wasn't part of the familiar halting rhythm he adopts when the occasion calls for high seriousness.

I wouldn't want to suggest that these were structural cracks in the facade of deliberated resolve which the Prime Minister wanted to present - there was absolutely no prospect of a large slab of statesmanlike purpose sheering off, to reveal a jerry-built construct beneath - not least because almost every MP present was at pains not to lean too heavily against the plasterwork. But these little vocal glitches were evidence that the structure was under pressure, microscopic stress fractures testifying to the considerable load that was bearing down on the speaker.

As I say, the burden wasn't that of parliamentary scrutiny. "As I speak, British Tornado aircraft are engaged in action," Mr Blair had said near the beginning of his statement, and he must have known as he did so that he was triggering a sensitive reflex - one that continued to twitch in the questions and debate that followed, as speaker after speaker made the required genuflection to our brave men and women. This was just jaw- jaw, but out there somewhere acts of war were taking place and the instinct of solidarity could be relied on.

Nor was Mr Blair worried about the stray rounds from his backbenches - "friendly fire" you could call it, if anything remotely like amity could be detected in the seething indignation of George Galloway and Tony Benn. Those he could dismiss with a kind of baffled bemusement.

When Mr Galloway passionately denounced "a new crusade, led not by Richard the Lionheart but by Clinton the Liar", Mr Blair rose and shook his head. "I find it - well, to be honest I get beyond anger," he said resignedly, before pointing out how perverse it was to attack the American President while offering not a word of condemnation of Saddam Hussein.

But what was really putting the pressure on Mr Blair, I think, were the remaining splinters of the doubt he must have entertained at some time. He had the demeanour of a man who had convinced himself, but was happy to hear the arguments once more, to hear himself frame them out loud and hear a murmur of assent from his audience. If that was the case he got what he wanted, from a House that had clearly decided the moment for debate had passed and had little remaining patience for the only true raison d'etre of the chamber - dissenting voices.

The bravery of British airmen was invoked repeatedly, with a faintly distasteful glibness, but the courage in the chamber came from those kamikaze backbenchers who took off in the face of insuperable odds. They were fighting on the wrong side and were poignantly vulnerable to even the lightest fire: Tony Benn, engines screaming as he zeroed in on the aircraft carrier Western Hypocrisy, stuttered off course after Christopher Leslie had intervened to ask him what alternative course of action he would suggest. But, even if you think them mad or bad, there was something impressive about the determination with which they went down blazing.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice