Blair is criticised over his silence on Saddam execution

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has been accused of double standards after he declined to comment on the execution of Saddam Hussein after returning from his holiday in Miami.

MPs are demanding a statement from the Prime Minister about the taunting and unauthorised filming of the former Iraqi dictator just before he was hanged last Saturday. They recalled that Mr Blair has commented on the deaths of footballers, musicians and disc jockeys as well as speaking for the nation after the death of the Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother.

In 1998, he authorised a Downing Street statement backing a campaign for the release from prison of Deidre Rachid, a character in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

After cutting short his holiday by a day to try to break the logjam over plans to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland, Mr Blair gave television interviews about the province. But aides said he would not be speaking about other issues, including Saddam's death - even though he made a lengthy statement when Saddam was captured in 2003.

Today Mr Blair will visit a London hospital and speak about progress in tackling heart disease. He may come under pressure to answer journalists' questions about the fiasco over Saddam's execution.

MPs will seek to quiz Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions when the Commons returns from its Christmas break next week.

"Nothing speaks louder than the morally vacuous position he occupies than his silence," said Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South. "He can comment on the death of celebrities and even about fictional TV characters but not on the execution of an enemy."

He said he feared that Mr Blair's "collusion" in the hanging of Saddam would give ground to al-Qa'ida and lead to "tit for tat" public executions. "He clearly has one set of moral rules for his friends but the absence of all morality beyond that," Mr Simpson said. "Diplomatically, Britain will pay a heavy cost in the loss of our own standing that is reflected in the Prime Minister's silence."

Mr Simpson said Mr Blair and George Bush could and should have halted Saddam's execution but had made a huge misjudgement, helping to turn him "from a tyrant into a martyr".

David Cameron, the Tory leader, attacked the manner of Saddam's execution and said the footage of the hanging was "pretty grisly". He told BBC Radio 4: "I think the way it was handled, clearly with people shouting and gesticulating, was quite wrong and I'm glad that the Iraqi authorities are going to have an investigation and a review into it."

He urged Gordon Brown to order an immediate investigation into what went wrong after the 2003 Iraq war if, as expected, the Chancellor succeeds Mr Blair this year. "Lessons have to be learnt," he said.

Ofcom, the media watchdog, is to investigate television coverage of Saddam's execution in Britain. The decision follows 30 viewers' complaints about the footage, thought to include the unofficial images filmed on a mobile phone. No British broadcaster showed the moment that the former Iraqi leader died and not all those being investigated aired the taunting that took place before the execution. Complaints concern footage shown on BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC News 24, Channel 4, ITV 1 and Sky News and by the US broadcaster Fox.