The Prime Minister didn't have a leg to stand on. He did it very well. Only Douglas Bader would have done it better. The man is levitating by sheer willpower. It's like yogic flying. Here he is doing the thing he always said didn't need to be done, that he wouldn't do, that would be wrong for anyone to do, and yet he betrays not one shred of embarrassment. Far from it. "Let the issue be put. Let battle be joined," he cried.
We still don't know why he has agreed to this referendum on the European Constitution. As Michael Howard said, for all the Prime Minister's battle-joining enthusiasm, the poor fellow couldn't bring himself to utter the word.
Mr Blair appealed for a grown-up debate to clear up the myths. He wanted us to address the facts, treat each other with respect. So it promises to be quite the nastiest debate in this Parliament.
Look at the myths that have been propagated, Mr Blair said. That we couldn't mount a future Iraq campaign without permission from Brussels; that we'll lose our seat on the Security Council; that Brussels will seize our oil supplies; that we'll be forced to drive on the right; that the Germans will take over our nuclear weapons.
I've consumed myths as voraciously as the next sceptic, but I have to say these are bananas.
The Prime Minister climaxed with this: "The Leader of the Opposition was asserting that, if this treaty were in place, I would be unable as British Prime Minister to go to Washington to talk to President Bush."
You have to listen so carefully. It sounded an extraordinarily stupid proposition of Mr Howard's. That the EU president would be able to dictate our Prime Minister's itinerary is obviously untrue. But then, Mr Blair read out the transcripts and it produced a different picture. Mr Howard had actually said: "It would be the president of Europe, not the Prime Minister, who would be meeting Mr Bush."
That may prove to be the case. The US president might well prefer an EU president rather than a British prime minister to rally support among those jabbering, arm-waving foreigners over there. Of such tiny elisions are myths made. If Mr Blair wants an honest debate, he hasn't started very well.
Mr Howard was, you may regret to hear, superb. The government backbenchers writhed in mortification and failure (there was at least that to enjoy).
It's all a sign that Mr Blair is losing interest in the long term. When the referendum arrives after his third election victory (110-seat majority, don't you think?) he will be thinking less about when he will go than the manner of his going.
There's only one job that would tempt him: secretary general of the United Nations. It's been a crap job, but no previous office-holder has had moral rights on America's nuclear arsenal to call on. With Mr Blair making moral decisions here, there and everywhere, the UN could become a rogue state all of its own.Reuse content