The demonstration that supports our boys

Perhaps Tony Blair thinks anyone who can get any weapons ready in 45 minutes should be invaded
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The Independent Online

Much of the establishment seems to have already made its verdict on the Hutton inquiry. It's, "Well, the Government told a pack of lies to take us into an illegal war causing untold carnage, and the BBC made a couple of grammatical errors in one broadcast at four in the morning, so honestly, they're both as bad as each other."

It's as if the judge at the Nuremberg trials had summed up by saying, "But let's not forget that one prosecution witness signed the wrong form for his expenses, so perhaps we can all learn something from what's happened."

Most spectacularly, the point that was yelled again and again to justify the war, that Saddam could launch his weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, is now admitted to have been a total lie. It wasn't the weapons of mass destruction they were referring to, say Blair and Geoff Hoon; it was his normal guns. Which is so pathetic you wonder whether this inquiry is actually an episode of Fawlty Towers. Tomorrow Hoon will say, "Oh minutes. Did I say minutes? No, I meant months, awfully sorry, it's this new Gregorian calendar you see, awfully confusing, never mind."

Or he might say, "I was referring to a computer game called "Weapons of Mass Destruction" which, according to intelligence sources, Saddam enjoyed playing on his PlayStation, although it took him 45 minutes to load up, what with all the shortages of electricity and everything."

Do they expect us to believe that when Tony Blair waved his finger in the House of Commons, snarling the 45 minutes line at every opponent of the war, he meant normal bloody guns? Then why did he raise it every half an hour for weeks and weeks? Perhaps he thinks anyone who can get any weapons ready in 45 minutes should be invaded. This could be settled with special editions of Challenge Anneka. Each week she goes to a different country and has 45 minutes to get a couple of guns out from somewhere. If she succeeds, the place is clearly a threat to the civilised world, so bomb the bastards.

In any case, how can it take 45 minutes for an army to get its guns out? Were they kept in one locker but someone had lost the key? Did MI6 have information that after deciding on a battle, Saddam liked to watch the first half of a football match, not including injury time, before getting started?

Even if all this were true, did it not occur to Blair and Hoon that every newspaper and every news bulletin interpreted the 45 minutes claim to mean weapons of mass destruction? Hoon's inventive answer to why, if he knew this wasn't true, he didn't say so was "I do not know." Doesn't that sum up New Labour - no bloody imagination. You'd have more respect if he said he didn't see the news that week because his mum was round and wanted to watch Heartbeat every night on UK Gold.

Hoon's evidence has been damning to the Government's case. If the Hutton inquiry was a made-for-TV courtroom drama, there are several points at which all the extras would have suddenly sat upright and gasped, "Ooh, ah, herbubba boo well, oh my." If it was an episode of Columbo, we'd have long passed the point where Hoon was led away in handcuffs, snapping, "Yes, I made it all up, and I so nearly got away with it."

Yet the austere tone of the inquiry allows them to brazen it out. It's as if a schoolboy was caught smashing a window. Instead of shouting, "We all saw you," the teachers set up an inquiry. So each night there were reports of, "Today Mr Anderson, senior press advisor to class 3BX, informed Lord Hutton that the stone in the schoolboy's hand was deemed to be 'customary procedure' according to a text message sent during the previous day's assembly."

Now the reasons for why we fought the war are subtly changing. As the mass destruction theory unravels, we're told it was justified anyway because Saddam was so dreadful. It's as if someone charged with murder realised half way through their trial that they'd been rumbled, and said: "Alright then, I did kill him. But what's all the fuss about? No one liked him anyway."

There are probably even more people now who feel the war was a mistake than six months ago, and these include a growing number in the services. In the last week two people, one with a brother in the Army and one with a brother in the RAF, have told me they've received letters saying there's a growing feeling that they shouldn't be there at all. So the anti-war demonstration this Saturday could publicise itself as "The demonstration that supports our boys".

Yet most of the press seem concerned with whether the BBC followed every sub-clause of every guideline. If Andrew Gilligan revealed that Tony Blair personally fired a cruise missile into a Baghdad orphanage, the verdict of most of the press would be: "Once again, Gilligan's over-use of prepositions undermines the network and strengthens the case for abolishing the licence fee."