The Sketch: Painful therapy in the Prime Minister's Big Tent

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The Independent Online

It was the Prime Minister's monthly. Not everyone was there. Advanced opinion is getting tired of these press conferences, viewing them as a sort of group therapy with the Prime Minister doing the talking, the sharing, the pain-feeling and the rest of us getting a pain in the wrist.

It was the Prime Minister's monthly. Not everyone was there. Advanced opinion is getting tired of these press conferences, viewing them as a sort of group therapy with the Prime Minister doing the talking, the sharing, the pain-feeling and the rest of us getting a pain in the wrist.

Eighty-five per cent of the questions were on non-domestic matters, and the vast majority of them were Iraq. For once, we don't seem to be "moving on".

We started to move on then we moved back again.

Mr Blair had come in with a sheaf of figures from the National Audit Office which he said supported the Government's claims about schools 'n' hospitals but, as he laughingly observed, no one was going to be interested in that.

He has lost his closest advisers, his strongest allies, his darkest accomplices, and now he's lost control of the agenda. Soon, a Tory spin doctor will make up a story about him wearing his shirt inside his underpants and it will all be over. I heard him using the words: "I say this in all sincerity", and thought hell, it can't be long now. You can't say "we're just trying to make things better" and not look at least a little pitiable. His premiership will last until the last of his quiff recedes into his hairline, or in layman's language, 14 December.

There were still flashes of the old genius. "The question is," a journalist asked, "if the coalition wants to attack another Fallujah, will the new Iraqi government be able to stop them?" "Yes," the Prime Minister said firmly, "that is the tough question."

It was a marvellous piece of political dialogue. The Prime Minister answering unequivocally, unambiguously, with complete clarity and transparency the wrong question. He went on purposefully for a few moments before seeming to confirm that the Iraqi government would indeed be able to forbid a new Fallujah. Why? Because the new Iraqi government would be sovereign. Can sovereign governments do what they think fit, then? Mr Blair said, "The transfer of sovereignty means the transfer of sovereignty. That's what it means."

What do you think he meant? It could have been anything. Someone said that one member of the Iraqi Governing Council wanted us there for years and another one wanted us gone in months. Mr Blair said that if we read their statements carefully we would see that "our position and the Iraqis' position are the same". This shows the Prime Minister's teeth can still sink deep into the red and bloody meat of Big Tent, circle-squaring, peace-processing.

"Let me be 100 per cent clear," he said again and again, "full sovereignty ... the Iraqis themselves will decide ... only with the consent of the Iraqi government ... lay everyone's mind to rest ... full sovereignty." But then his voice dropped with the word "Obviously", and that often means the interesting part is coming up. "Obviously," he said, "certain agreements have to be entered into for operational matters." Yowza! Certain agreements! What sort of agreements will they turn out to be? They will almost certainly involve making Iraqis do what we want them to, while saying they can do what they want. That really will be a circle worth squaring.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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