The Sketch: How to beat critics - agree with them

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The Independent Online

What a piece of work is Blair! You can colour in the rest of that yourselves with a mixture of admiration and execration from your own palette. But what a piece of work he is. He's in terrific form, he's confident, concentrated and deep in election mode.

What a piece of work is Blair! You can colour in the rest of that yourselves with a mixture of admiration and execration from your own palette. But what a piece of work he is. He's in terrific form, he's confident, concentrated and deep in election mode.

We saw him yesterday in the Liaison Committee at his most brutally consensual. "I don't disagree with the central thrust of what you are saying at all ... I totally sympathise with the problem you're talking about ... I think that's a very reasonable way of putting the point to me ... ".

It's very hard to disagree with someone who's agreeing with you. "From your question and the questions others have put, I suggest there isn't an essential conflict ... ".

Compare and contrast that with the rhetorical style of Mr Blair's number two. What an unpleasant way of putting it. With Mr Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer. "I will insist!" Gordon Brown has been saying recently. And in the matter of public service delivery: "I will demand!" And most insanely, about an "orchestrated campaign of lies" he yelped: "This will not be tolerated!" You really need to be wearing a black uniform to carry that off. Or a white one.

Mr Blair's version of the same sentiments is: "I know there's no point in sitting here and saying there aren't disagreements." It's why Mr Blair is Prime Minister and Mr Brown will struggle ever to win an election unless the southern middle classes aren't allowed to vote.

The Liaison Committee meeting started on a note of comedy with the chairman saying: "Last time we started with Iraq. This time, so we don't get bored, we'll start with social cohesion led by Andrew Bennett." Mr Bennett is so boring that the sound of heads hitting the table sounded like Ginger Baker's "Toad" (the live 20-minute drum solo, in itself a Platonic form of boringness).

Actually, Mr Blair got quite a kicking on "choice", more from his own side, of course, than from the bootless opposition. All through his answers, Mr Blair seemed to have a very limited understanding of the thinking behind "choice". Then I realised it only looked like that. If you don't dare use the word competition (as it is competition that drives up standards) you'll never be able to explain why choice has any effect. There was some piffle about the links between Saddam Hussein and international terrorism which the Prime Minister has chosen to believe; Alan Beith tried to cut through it and partially succeeded.

Then Mr Blair seemed to suggest we couldn't take possession of the last Guantanamo Bay Brits because there wasn't enough evidence to keep them locked up in this country. "I'm not satisfied we have the necessary machinery" was the way he phrased it.

Finally, something happened for the first time in 10 years of listening to him: he said something completely believable. He'd been stung by something Edward Leigh said, and this came out hot and strong: "I will never allow our relationship with the United States to be subordinated to a relationship with any other country."

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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