Parliament - The Sketch: Fears of avalanche on Mount Blair prove unfounded

PRIME MINISTER'S Questions yesterday promised to be the most interesting for weeks. Mr Blair could not have had the easiest of weekends - what with the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and his brisk education in the unpredictable targeting of PR voting systems. Mr Hague, on the other hand, might have been expected to display the renewed vigour of a recently reprieved man.

The deliverance of last Thursday is so recent that he can probably still feel the rasp of hemp on his neck, a sensation which is known to concentrate the mind wonderfully. I can't have been the only correspondent, then, who was looking forward to something a little less one-sided than recent encounters. In the event, though, it was quieter than one might have predicted - both sides having taken a step back from positions that virtually guaranteed friction.

Mr Tam Dalyell began proceedings with a question about Iraq, usefully reminding all present that he is an efficient multi-task dove, capable of not fighting on two fronts at once. But the headline item, naturally, was Kosovo. Mr Hague was clearly resolved not to be depicted as an underminer of military morale - the accusation that has been hurled at various Tory sceptics over the last few weeks.

Frankly this was always something of a weak position for the Labour party: if British troops are really sitting out in Macedonia saying "I don't know, Sir. I just can't seem to get motivated since Sir Peter Tapsell said that the campaign is ill-conceived", then we might as well sue for peace now. But Mr Hague was taking no chances.

Opening with a statement of support for the Government "in their aims", he advanced with great caution to a question about whether the air campaign would actually deliver them, pausing every now and then to hammer in another piton, lest he should be swept off the rock face by a sudden avalanche of Prime Ministerial indignation. He knocked in a sub-clause which paid tribute to the professionalism of our armed forces, advanced a little higher, then added another belay point - an acknowledgement of the terrible reports of atrocity. Up a few more metres, and a quick citation of the Chief of Staff provided yet another anchor for his safety rope.

There had been a warning snow slide earlier on a lesser slope - Clare Short telling Gary Streeter that she was "shocked by the behaviour of the British Conservative Party". But conditions on Mount Blair proved more stable, even benign, the Prime Minister having apparently decided that all-party support is worth a bit of diplomacy. When Tom King complained about Number Ten briefings which questioned the loyalty of Conservatives who had doubts about the conduct of the war, Mr Blair was unequivocal. He entirely agreed with what Mr King said. Number Ten would withdraw its brutal and ill-disciplined political cleansers in return for a let-up in Tory scepticism.

What was most striking was that, far from pressing his foot on the brake pedal, Mr Hague appeared to be urging the Prime Minister to accelerate. In his very first speech about the Nato attacks Mr Hague made it clear that Conservative support had limits - they would not back the Government if it put in ground troops. Then he went quiet for a bit, after it became clear that this did not entirely match the mood of the public.

Mr Hague was listening, one presumes, and having listened he pressed Mr Blair not to leave any decision on ground troops too late. "I won't remind him of what he said about ground forces a short while ago," said Mr Blair oxymoronically. But he cannot make much capital out of Mr Hague's handbrake turn, knowing that his own may be only a short distance along the road.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent