The Sketch: Tony's living in world of shifting sands

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair's doing his floaty walk again; it's the one he does when things get critical. It's how he appeared among us at the 2002 party conference. Very effective it is too: slow, liturgical almost, head up, casting forward into the middle distance of the committee corridor, it's as though he's in the grip of a higher power (Destiny, perhaps, or Alastair Campbell). It's a leader thing.

And when he sat before the liaison committee, he was bursting with confidence, full of fighting talk, utterly convinced, completely unconvincing. A peculiar combination for Blair, considering what a straight kind of guy he is. Quite suddenly, it's just not working for him. Each point he makes sounds strong, but each is weakened by the point he makes next.

Tony Wright asked him about the dodgy dossier: "Do you accept you inadvertently misrepresented Parliament?" The Prime Minister's first word was a firm "No". Yet, in reply to Donald Anderson, who said it is customary to apologise to Parliament after inadvertently misleading it, the Prime Minister said: "We did so." He says one thing here, and another thing there. Yes, it is a small point, but it illustrates how the sands keep shifting.

For instance: we are told it was a good thing to have removed Saddam Hussein from power because he was a vile, psychotic, fascist dictator. But why, before the war, did the Prime Minister tell the House that he could stay in power merely by co-operating with the weapons inspectors? How powerful was the humanitarian argument if it could be so easily ignored?

Again: if they were so worried about weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands, why haven't they made more vigorous efforts to find them? Give us a chance, the Prime Minister pleads, the Iraq survey group is only now starting to inspect sites.

But, er, why? Everything that hasn't be sold by now has been looted. Had Mr Blair really been so terrified of terrorists getting hold of the weapons, surely they wouldn't have paused so fatally just at the point of victory?

Then we have the cascade of claims that have all turned out to be more or less imaginary. That Saddam was affiliated to al-Qa'ida. That caravans were weapons labs. That fertiliser factories were CBW plants. And every time a claim is debunked, the sands shift again.

There is one obstinate fact that remains solid. As George Young said: "The next time we are confronted with the difficult decision to go to war and the Government presents compelling reasons to do so, people won't believe them."