The Sketch: Celestial Blair uses yogic flying skills to float above the debate

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The Independent Online

You probably don't believe in yogic flying. You think it's just cultish loonies sitting cross-legged on a bouncy mattress and working their buttock muscles to get six inches in the air. At the highest point in their trajectory, the cult photographer snaps them and publishes the photograph as proof of flight.

You probably don't believe in yogic flying. You think it's just cultish loonies sitting cross-legged on a bouncy mattress and working their buttock muscles to get six inches in the air. At the highest point in their trajectory, the cult photographer snaps them and publishes the photograph as proof of flight.

But when you see it with your own eyes it's an amazing experience. The Prime Minister levitated before our eyes, and floated above the Iraq debate. When he smiled, a celestial radiance came off his teeth. There may have been a dove somewhere. People tried to bring him down to earth but he merely forgave them. At moments like these, you really have to hang on to your conviction that things are not as they seem.

He was asked why the "serious weaknesses" underlying the intelligence were not made clear to the public. It was early in his speech and Mr Blair was having to work to make any headway. Plucky Lynne Jones and Harry Cohen had troubled him with interventions on Brian Jones (and why his bosses weren't resigning), and on the lack of "strong factual grounds" for the war.

The atmosphere was tense. So Mr Blair said to young David Cameron: "Look. Imagine for a moment you are the prime minister ..." and paused with great precision. In the rolling laughter and jeering and Labour pointing at Michael Howard and Tory pointing at Gordon Brown, the mood of the House changed, and came swelling up underneath Mr Blair's Persil-white robes, to lift him even nearer to heaven.

He gave way to his critics, he gave way to his friends, he didn't give way to Bob Marshall Andrews and that caused more laughter. He gave way twice to Claire Short. He had put in something of a defence (that the assessments weren't "patchy and sporadic") and when he gave way to Michael Howard, he floated a little higher to keep the hem of his gown tantalisingly out of reach.

Indeed, the great roar of the day was for his tilt against Mr Howard: "The public respect politicians who were for the war, or against the war. But not politicians who were for and against the war in the same newspaper article."

Mr Howard had many good points to make, and he probably made them. Claims had been withdrawn. Evidence had collapsed. Nobody except the Prime Minister believed the current and immediate threat. And everybody except the Prime Minister had heard about the abuses in Abu Ghraib. But the Prime Minister just rose above it all, beatified by Parliament.

Mr Howard has had a better run than some Tory leaders. But his stance of being in favour of the war while being against the vote for war was too lawyerly to do well in this particular forum (how was it for you out there?). He lost his audience, and was himself lost.

"That's not what I was saying," he responded to one of Mr Blair's distortions; the other side went, as in a pantomime, "Oh yes, you were!" It's hard to make serious charges sound as serious as they are when the other side is going: "Oh, no they're not!" When Mr Howard said the Prime Minister's credibility was at stake there was a roar of angry laughter. It was fake laughter, but it was accurate.

Liberal Democrat Mike Hancock asked the question of the day. Did any intelligence officer at any stage tell him the intelligence was unreliable?

The Prime Minister did not use the question as a peg on which to hang his spare halo. He didn't cry: "Never! Not once! And if I had been told such a thing we wouldn't be having this debate!" No, he quietly hurried through a non-answer: "I think the JIC assessments were set out in the Butler report."

Analysis of this answer suggests that Mr Hancock is on to something. Mr Blair may act on evidence that is patchy and sporadic, but that's more than good enough, as we now know.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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