The Sketch: How do you tell a lie from a fact? Ask Mr Reid, he has all the answers

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The Independent Online

"There are mischievous elements out there," John Reid told the House. "Some are malevolent." It was hard not to feel a little thrill at the recognition; no, you'd be less than human. But enough about me. Mr Reid went on: "There have been attempts to undermine the Joint Intelligence Committee and its chairman. And anyone who does that is an enemy of mine." Personally, I'd say it was reckless to declare war on Alastair Campbell like that in front of everyone but Mr Reid is known as a tough guy. He'll say anything he has to.

That's why he happily told the House all of the criticisms of the Government's dossier-doctoring were "completely and totally untrue".

How hard it is to nail a lie in the House of Commons. Surely you'd think it impossible for the Government to deny documents were "sexed up" by Number 10. The so-called dodgy dossier, said to have been the most recent evaluation of the WMD threat, turned out to have been lifted from a 12-year-old academic thesis. And the original author now tells us the claim that Iraq had funded terrorists was slipped into one of his paragraphs by Number Ten. How can the Prime Minister's stooges complain of being slurred and slandered when such things are in the public domain? And what of the much-touted claim that Iraq was developing nuclear capability by getting fissile material from Africa?

Paul Tyler rehearsed the many occasions on which this claim has been made. But that, too, turns out to have been based on crudely forged documents from our own MI6. So Mr Reid naturally describes this fact as "completely and totally untrue". The essential thing, Mr Reid said, was "to look at this particular piece of information in the round".

Eric Forth made the point that the investigation into the Prime Minister's handling of the propaganda war will be conducted by a committee. This committee is appointed by the Prime Minister, he observed. It reports to the Prime Minister, and the Act that established the committee gives the Prime Minister the right to edit the report.

Mr Reid had a reply to that, but I'm not going to tell you what it was. If it wasn't completely and totally untrue it was completely and totally misleading.

However, in an amiable display of cross-party unity, the Leader and shadow Leader of the House ended by agreeing on one thing at least: that on Wednesday, the Conservative leader plumbed new depths of uselessness. Yes, he is not just useless but actually anti-useful. He has created a whole new category of negative utility. He is a hole in the front bench that exudes vagueness.

Mr Reid had a transcript of Mr Forth's appearance on the Today programme.

Why, he'd been asked, hadn't the Tory leader pulped the Prime Minister in PMQs? Mr Forth leapt into the breach to defend his leader with the words: "Well, that's a fascinating parliamentary question, and ... I will reflect on it." He spoke for everyone who has the Conservative Party's interests at heart.

There is an alternative, of course, for the leader to make some difference - and perhaps some headlines. If Mr Thing would put country before party, just for once, he would quietly resign and hope, for once, that the country noticed.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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