The Sketch: Argument weak: therefore shout. But even then, Straw's case sounds sketchy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government says the evidence is sketchy; for a sketch writer it doesn't have to be anything else. It's clear that if you want to construct a picture of deception, duplicity and legalistic chicanery, the materials are freely available and in many different colours. Day-glo, even.

Yesterday, the Tories and the Lib-Dems combined to demand a full judicial enquiry into the rush to war, and whether it was sold to us on a false prospectus.

Michael Ancram against Jack Straw. You'd think Mr Straw would win easily, there's something comfortable and amiable about Mr Ancram (of course, I don't mean that in a good way). In the event, Mr Straw failed, first by laying out the history of judicial enquiries, and then by galloping through the rest of his speech obeying the famous marginal instruction: "Argument weak: Shout." It is never for want of deftness that Mr Straw is defeated, so we can deduce that right is elsewhere.

Mr Ancram presented us with a government in full retreat from previous positions, throwing up a smokescreen of claims and counter claims, of authorised leaks, of shifting language and increasingly inoperative statements.

"I accept the Prime Minister didn't know the document he was presenting as an intelligence dossier was not an intelligence dossier ... Alastair Campbell was operating on a need-to-know basis. Obviously he didn't think the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary needed to know." Yes, we laughed.

If the Government tortured the intelligence to make it say something it didn't really mean - Mr Ancram concluded - how will we believe them when they want to invade Iran, or Syria or North Korea?

Sir John Stanley has been named by Private Eye as the most pompous politician in England. This is wrong. His stance, his manner, his unwavering eye, his sheer physical ugliness are too pig-like to be pompous.

He had the self-assurance to ignore me the other day when I asked him a question, so one can't help trying to get one's own back. I shall resist this impulse. So: the old tusker put in a bristling performance, and hinted at evidence taken in secret session which suggested that the forged Niger documents may yield very damaging results for the Government in the future.

Ming Campbell's speech clearly demonstrated him to be much cleverer than we'd thought he was, Alan Duncan summed up heroically, and John Maples spoke so well, so fluently and so fast that it will only be comprehensible in Hansard.

He mentioned the many indications that the 45-minute claim was overplayed and unreliable. An intelligence expert had testified to "turbulence in the machine", caused by government interference. "Why wasn't the September dossier published in March?" Mr Maples asked. "Probably because it wasn't interesting enough."

His solution wasn't a full enquiry: Let us see the drafts of the September dossier from March onwards, he asked. They will show with complete clarity the extent of No 10's involvement. It's not sketchy, but it's good.