The Sketch: Shaky, rattled and haunted - PM as never seen before

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The Independent Online

He can't express any doubt or horror about the fate of Saddam without making the mistake of his former press secretary, Alastair Campbell. If you remember, Campbell told us he had had a really terrible day when he heard Dr Kelly had committed suicide. The Prime Minister can't denounce the hanging of Saddam Hussein because he swung the rope over the gallows. He is shoulder-to-shoulder with the executioner.

From the way he looked at his press conference yesterday, he's hating it. He looked not just shaky, or rattled, or haunted (though I've got those words in my notes). He looked ruined, I thought. That wasn't clear until the exchange with Sky's Adam Boulton. The Prime Minister had given us a long dissertation on ID cards. He didn't mention the biggest news of the day. That they're going to hang their prisoner.

You have to dwell on this, I fear, to understand the effect it seems to be having on the Prime Minister. Many of us are in favour of capital punishment up until the moment it is clear that someone is going to be executed. In Tony Blair's inner core - that's his inner-inner core, beyond politics - he is opposed to capital punishment. I'm guessing here, but I assume he believes that kind of judgment is God's work.

So he prevaricated with very sketchable piffle (apparently Iraqis want a non-sectarian Iraq), but he wouldn't refer directly to this death sentence, the most significant piece of news to come out of Iraq in recent times. Was he in favour of it? He began his reply with the words, "Margaret Beckett".

It's impossible to recover from that.

"Who cares what she thinks? You've been Prime Minister 10 years and she's been Foreign Secretary five minutes," Adam Boulton persisted. "What do you think? Why won't you say? Do you think he should be executed?" "Adam," he said. "Excuse me. That is just enough." The way he said these words was unlike any Blair I've seen. Press conferences have their own rules, we're not always sure what they are, but Boulton had obviously broken one of them. Clearly this is one of Blair's private subjects.

By the look of him, Blair has taken the hanging of Saddam into his conscience. And he isn't sure he can bear the weight of that body.

PS: ID Cards. The Prime Minister keeps saying that without ID cards we can't control our borders. Will someone please tell him that border control is why we have passports. Repeat it. Passports! People can be monitored coming in and out by their biometric passports! And the working visas that get stamped in them control access to jobs. Whatever happen to be the virtues of ID cards, controlling illegal migration isn't one of them.

simoncarr@sketch.co.uk

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