There are always three, and usually four, rhetorical tricks to any Blair set-piece speech these days, and each one is tendentious, if not actually dishonest. The first is to say that the problems presented to the Government at any one time are entirely new and more terrible than any that have gone before. The call on the health service; the environmental challenge; the nature of terrorism; you name it and he will paint it in the most lurid colours as if our forefathers didn't face the same and far worse in time of war.
The second is to define the choices in terms of entirely artificial opposites - those who object to privatisation of the health service want patients to die waiting for operations.
The third is to propose that the nation needs to have a full public debate on the challenge and the measures needed to tackle it and this particular report or speech is to open up that debate, not close it down.
The fourth assertion is the accusation that decisions are being made immeasurably more difficult by the media - the demands of instant response and the growth of global communications methods.
All are just that - tricks. And each was on display in yesterday's speech on foreign policy to the armed services. It has clever touches - the acceptance that there are problems about equipment, admissions used to slide by the more awkward questions of the British forces being overstretched.
There is the blame on the media (who else?). You can see Tony Blair in the Crimean War decrying William Russell for his reports in The Times for arousing unnecessary debate on the purposes of the war. We also have the tired rhetoric about the unique nature of the "global war on terror", as if the IRA never happened and every terrorist plot today was part of some worldwide fundamentalist Muslim conspiracy against "civilisation".
No one is arguing that fundamentalism isn't a problem. But it is deliberately misleading to declare that therefore everything is part of the same pattern or that all is new. It is also dishonest to pretend you want a public debate when everything you say and do closes down just such a thing. If Blair really wants open discussion why doesn't he have a Commons vote on whether we support or oppose President Bush's new policy in Iraq? It might test out just how independent our foreign policy is these days. No, open discussion and accountability is the last thing the Prime Minister, or his colleagues, want. They, and parliament, prefer to turn their heads away as the premier continues this mendacious posturing.Reuse content