The Scott Inquiry: Determined mix of the Madonna and the metal

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SHE had the best of both worlds. She spoke with great force and emphasis, with the resolution of a strong man. Yet, subtly, she used all her feminine wiles: fluttering her eyelashes, softening her voice, a gentle smile before the punch. Baroness Thatcher at the Scott inquiry yesterday was a vivid demonstration of how the Iron Lady got her name. The Madonna and the metal were inextricably mixed.

It was too easy to be seduced by her practised performance. She needed imperfections to be believable. She knew this and tried to play the scatty old lady, or the 12- year-old girl. 'I'm lost]' she exclaimed several times. 'All this paper] I've never seen so much paper]'

She won her audience by making them laugh. 'She is stunning. What an actress]' were the comments. The men chortled at her dismissiveness, her impatience, her arrogance. The women were more reserved in their appreciation, wanting to offer sympathy. She did not need it.

Lady Thatcher's expression as she walked in was resolute, her mood combative. Her answers were heavily intoned, and occasionally she threw back questions. When she felt she had had enough, she said so. 'I don't think I can add anything further,' she said several times, softening the blow with a meek 'Your Lordship'.

To the inquiry's counsel, Presiley Baxendale QC, she verged on the rude: 'You have asked me that question again and again and again,' she chided. To which the reply was: 'And you still haven't answered the question, Lady Thatcher.'

The inquiry wanted to know exactly how much Lady Thatcher knew about the export of weapons to Iraq. It appeared she knew very little. 'I had 19 departments of government and 83 ministers. If I had read every minute said in government, I would be in a snowstorm,' she snapped.

The job of prime minister, she said, was such that she only had time to concern herself with 'big issues'; she didn't read every single piece of paper. Instead she relied on ministers to warn her of guideline changes.

And yes - she did feel disappointed that she hadn't been told about the 're-interpretation' of government guidelines.

'If I had, I wouldn't be sitting here,' she said. To her, detail was a bore, a chore, and up to the civil servants. Worrying about the wording in the guidelines was of 'philosophic, esoteric concern'.

At times she got the better the better of her inquisitors. Sometimes they could only sit back askance and watch the performance, as Lady Thatcher went on about 'integrity', 'principles' and 'debate'.

The rare moments of fluster could only be detected by a slight fluttering of the eye. 'We are looking at this with hindsight,' she would remind her audience. 'I didn't have hindsight at the time.'

(Photograph omitted)