The Sketch: Clare says one thing. Tony another. They can't both be right

  • @SimonSketch

If this is a "lessons learnt" inquiry, there were lessons galore from Clare Short. Yes, yes, I know, it was "Clare". We all knew what she was going to say. Old scores were to be settled. She'd ramble. She'd forget the question. She'd stick the knife into Alastair. "Oh, Clare!"

That was how the Cabinet shut her up, she said, when she tried to get Blair to talk about the legal decision to go to war. "Oh, Clare!" She was shushed, tutted and overridden – but she was, actually, in the way many of us think about it, right.

And if she was right in her account of Whitehall before the war, it sounds like there was something close to a coup.

The paperwork – minutes of meetings, telegrams, reports – stopped. The machinery of government was put aside and decisions were taken informally by those who were personally approved by the PM.

So, she said, he assumed presidential powers without the checks and balances of a presidential system.

It made you reconsider the merits of a written constitution. But then, all this sort of thing was against the Ministerial Code, and he drove through that as if through cobwebs.

So when he persuaded her to stay in the Cabinet – how did he do that?

She said he'd agreed to her "bottom line" to get Bush to push forward on the Palestinian question. He said Bush was making a press statement to that effect.

But why did she believe him? "They were the President of the US and the Prime Minister of the UK." Ah, the pathos of it, looking back.

Only later, she said, did she realise he was doing this to prevent her resigning on the same day as Robin Cook.

No doubt we've heard it all before. She has explained to us before that Chirac hadn't ruled out war "in any circumstances" – but it didn't really go in then. Has it gone in now? Maybe the mysterious "timing" that matters so much is in her favour.

She's implicated Gordon in this official lie (she called it "a lie, a deliberate lie"). Prescott, Brown and Blair met and decided to blame the French for the lack of a second resolution. They presented this lie to Cabinet and the country, saying they'd veto any second resolution enabling war.

There are documents to the contrary in the French embassy, she said. Maybe Chilcot will call for them.

We haven't had a witness saying "lie" in this way before. The central clique all lied, she said, or misled us. The military misled themselves. "They weren't ready and should have said so."

"Oh, Clare!"

But again, for all her compromised position, the errors and omissions – is she right, or is Tony Blair? They can't both be wrong.