"I remember that, during the course... of July and August , I was increasingly getting messages saying... 'Are you about to go to war?', and I was thinking 'This is ridiculous', and so I remember towards the end of the holiday actually phoning Bush and saying that ... we've not decided on military action... he was in absolute agreement."
That was Tony Blair, giving evidence to the Butler inquiry. That was the Prime Minister, lying to the Butler inquiry.
From the outset, the PM's account of the phone call was profoundly implausible. In April/May 2002, members of the Bush administration told me that a decision had been taken. The question was no longer whether, but when. Saddam was to be overthrown by force, with the British in full support. It has subsequently become clear that Mr Blair had committed this country to war during his visit to the President's Crawford ranch in Easter 2002.
In that case, the phone conversation which he described to Lord Butler could not have taken place. George Bush does not do second thoughts or rowing back. As the violence intensified in the weeks before the Iraqi elections, some State department officials argued for a postponement. Colin Powell himself was worried. But when such doubts were expressed to the President, he often refused even to dignify them with a reply. He would just stare at the doubters until they quailed. A commitment had been given; elections would be held; that was that.
Throughout these islands, tens of millions of people are coming to the conclusion that their Prime Minister is as trustworthy as a £3 note. That is emphatically not George Bush's view. He is just about the last man on earth who believes in Tony Blair's integrity. But if, four months after making an agreement, Mr Blair had phoned the White House to cast doubt on that agreement, he would not have retained the President's trust.
In the best sense of the word, George Bush is a simple man. He believes in plain dealing and plain speaking. His word is his bond. He regards Tony Blair as a staunch friend because that is how he has found him. Such an assessment could not have survived the phone conversation which Tony Blair invented while giving evidence to the Butler inquiry.
Now there is further evidence that the Prime Minister lied to Lord Butler. The minutes of a meeting held in Downing Street on July 23, 2002 make it clear that Britain was poised for war. There is one key sentence. "The Prime Minister said that ... if the political context were right, people would support regime change." Over the next few months, the PM tried to create that favourable context, by lying.
In March 2002, the Joint Intelligence Committee had told Mr Blair that "intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction ... is sporadic and patchy". There were similar assessments in August 2002 and in early September. Yet, on 24 September, Mr Blair told Parliament that the intelligence evidence was "extensive, detailed and authoritative". Three adjectives: three lies.
Then there was the claim that Saddam had WMD which could hit British targets within 45 minutes. That was a striking assertion. It did a great deal to create a favourable political context. It was another lie.
It is easy to explain why Mr Blair thought that he would get away with these lies. Like almost everyone else in senior positions, in Britain or abroad, he assumed that Saddam Hussein had some form of WMD; that he would not have gone to such trouble to defy the UN unless he had something to conceal.
It might not amount to much. Perhaps it would be nothing more than a few rusting drums of poison gas, left over from the campaign against the Kurds. But it would have enabled the PM to claim vindication. Over the decades, the evidence of his dishonesty might have seeped out. Over the short run, he would have secured his political context.
That ought now to be in ruins. In his day, Harold Wilson was widely distrusted. "How can you tell when he's lying?" the joke went: "When his lips move." But in comparison to Tony Blair, Harold Wilson was the soul of probity. Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer went to prison for perjury. Anything they did, Tony Blair has done one thousand-fold.
He has also led others into lying on his behalf. A few days ago, Jack Straw said that the Attorney General's advice on the war had been "unequivocal". There are many ways in which the AG's advice could be described. Fence-sitting, time-serving and weasely all come to mind. But unequivocal? That was an unequivocal lie.
The Attorney General: that is a sad story and a sad decline. Peter Goldsmith took office with a high reputation, which he has now forfeited. The Attorney General is a quasi-judicial official and should uphold law within government. In his eagerness to kiss the hindquarters of the man who appointed him, this one allowed his judgement to be overridden and rewritten. If Lord Goldsmith still has any self-respect, he would resign. Indeed, the question is no longer whether he is fit to be a law officer. It is whether he is fit to stay in practice as a lawyer. The Bar Council has a duty to hold him to account.
In March 2005, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, told the public administration committee that there was only one version of the Attorney General's advice. We now know that this was untrue. So why did Sir Andrew state an untruth? Who put pressure on him?
In his 1997 manifesto, Tony Blair said: "Our mission in politics is to rebuild [the] bond of trust between government and the people." Instead, he has spread the poison of dishonesty, corruption, dishonour and mistrust throughout government. His entire premiership has been a weapon of moral destruction.
A few months ago, there was a proposal to impeach Mr Blair. At the time, it seemed fanciful, and was hardly going to find favour in a Labour-dominated Commons. But if there were a hung parliament, the pressure to impeach Mr Blair might be irresistible. It would be a deserved fate. Yet, at present, it seems unlikely there will be a hung parliament. This is the final achievement of Tony Blair's malign political genius. In discrediting himself, he seems to have persuaded enough voters that all the other politicians are as bad. In 1997, he was swept in on a tide of hope and morality. In 2005, he is set on grovelling back across the mudflats of cynicism and apathy.
If that ambition is realised, it would be the worst misjudgement by a democratic electorate since the German voters gave Hitler a commanding position in the Reichstag. Anyone who cares about truth, decency and standards in public life has a duty to vote Blair out. Everyone who lives in a Labour-held constituency should forget partisanship and vote for the party which came second last time. A democracy which tolerates a lying leader is a sick democracy.Reuse content