The Sketch: Marvellous display of virtue and certainty

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What a marvellous combination of virtues the Prime Minister has at his command; he was at his most virtuous at the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday.

Under some hostile and occasionally effective questioning he was polite, powerful, persuasive. What integrity he deployed, what certainty. "What we never did was interfere with intelligence judgements," he said with a sort of perfect pitch; it was hard to doubt the good faith he talks about, the moral substance and so forth. Perhaps we should try a thought experiment.

Let us imagine Tony Blair perceived Britain's national interest to be served by not invading Iraq (let's say the Americans wanted to keep Saddam in power as a counterweight against Iran, is that too cynical?).

In that case, how would Mr Blair have treated the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction? Would he be cogently, powerfully, passionately arguing the same case as he has all these months? I think we can hear him saying, can we not, the polar opposite. The idea that Saddam is a current, immediate, serious, mortal threat, he would be telling us, is absolutely unconfirmed by the intelligence. We have the word of the weapons inspector Scott Ritter, we have the word of Saddam's brother, we know that biological and chemical agents turn to hair gel in a year, we know (because we investigated it) the nuclear documents from Niger are crude forgeries. Saddam has no observable connections to international terror groups, and our intelligence services make a point of saying that deposing him would provide the best opportunity for al-Qa'ida to get hold of terrorist weapons. Intelligence turns out to be a Rorschach test where we can construct the pictures we want. Using intelligence to justify political decisions is like making pictures out of clouds. Look: is it a hawk? Is it a handsaw? It looks like a whale to me.

But - or so - Mr Blair says: "The issue is one of good faith and I really think it is incumbent on people to accept [Lord Hutton's judgment]." Whatever the Prime Minister's virtues, and whatever the picture he was able to construct for himself, remember that Alastair Campbell - the Prime Minister's dark side - was out there dissembling, deceiving, reconstructing the evidence (even to the Foreign Affairs Committee) to support the desired conclusion, and to give Mr Blair the rhetorical weapons he needed to obliterate dissent in the House of Commons.

It all explains Sir Robert Peel's dictum: "There seem to me very few facts, at least ascertainable facts, in politics."

Mr Blair has made events, and events have made him. Now he has to live up to the character that was created in the aftermath of 9/11. He is really very good at it.