Politics: The Sketch - The PM has some good news - there's no bad news

AS TRIUMPHS go it was a very muted affair. Mr Blair rose at 3.30pm to make his statement about Kosovo with the next best thing to good news: No confirmed bad news. He did so to the most doubtful of cheers from the Labour Party, as though a kind of superstitious dread of premature celebration had hushed his supporters.

The Prime Minister, too, was in a cautious mood, already looking ahead to what sounded like a kind of Marshall Plan for the Balkans. The proposal was partly intended to reward the fidelity of frontline states, but it also contained an acknowledgement that the prevention of future conflict would be far less painful than another cure as tough as this one. He looked enervated rather than energised, as if he finally felt able to let the anxiety show.

That may have been a kind of triumph in itself, but if you really wanted evidence that the Prime Minister might be close to something he could call victory without fear of contradiction, you needed to look at the faces of his opponents in this matter.

Mr Benn and Mr Dalyell looked very gloomy indeed - two peckish birds of carrion who had just noticed that their intended victim was showing signs of renewed health. Mr Benn was so disgusted that he could not even bring himself to look at the back of the Prime Minister's head as Mr Blair answered his questions on the UN resolution. Most of these were quickly dealt with but when it came to the most fantastic of Mr Benn's alternative realities - the notion that all this unpleasantness might have been avoided had we only gone to the UN 10 weeks ago - Mr Blair briefly lost the power of speech.

"No" he said, and then stammered as he tried to surmount the glassy improbability of Mr Benn's conjecture. He started one sentence, then interrupted himself to throw a question back, his voice rising: "Do you know how many UN resolutions there were? Seventy-two UN resolutions against Milosevic. I really do ask him to reflect upon that," he concluded, but Mr Benn shook his head indignantly.

Mr Blair was a good deal more magnanimous than several of his backbench colleagues, who would clearly have preferred to shave Mr Benn's head and lead him along Whitehall in chains while an assembled mob hurled vegetables. Mr Blair responded more in sorrow than in anger, a reaction in keeping with his general caution yesterday. On a couple of occasions there was a brief attempt to hoist him shoulder high, but each time he declined the honour, reminding those present that nothing was won yet, that only when the refugees were back home could any claim to victory be made, and that even then many lives would have been lost.

It was hard not to wonder how Mrs Thatcher would have handled this moment, at the shrill combination of vindication and vindictiveness with which she would probably have greeted the confusion of her enemies, within and without. Mr Blair, who can justifiably claim credit for whatever good can be salvaged from the war, behaved with a becoming dignity.

But it wasn't only Kosovo, naturally, and it wasn't only dignified. With the European elections only a day away (yes, honestly), Mr Hague was anxious to represent the Prime Minister as a man in chains himself, cowed satrap of the continental potentates. He had some fun with recent European statements on the euro, and then Mr Blair had some fun in return. Mr Hague's new ambition to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome, he pointed out, would need agreement from all 14 member states. "Name one!" he shouted, "Name one that supports that position!". Oddly enough, during the silence that followed he looked unequivocally triumphant, yet this is a battle that has hardly even begun.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Manager is required to join the m...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Mobile - OTE £35,000

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Unified - OTE £35,000

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

Recruitment Genius: Trade Sales Consultant - Furniture

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a besp...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum