He will not apologise. But he must admit his mistakes

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Once again, Tony Blair has failed to put the war in Iraq behind him. He will never be able to do so, and it is right that he should pay an electoral price for his misjudgement, even as the international community begins to unite behind the objective of rebuilding a sovereign, democratic Iraq.

Once again, Tony Blair has failed to put the war in Iraq behind him. He will never be able to do so, and it is right that he should pay an electoral price for his misjudgement, even as the international community begins to unite behind the objective of rebuilding a sovereign, democratic Iraq.

There are many people, including in his own party, who want Mr Blair to pay a more personal price, and hand over the leadership of the country to Gordon Brown, whose enthusiasm for military action was contained, to say the least. This newspaper does not believe that such a change would be in the national interest, and that, viewed in the round, Mr Blair's record justifies his continuance in office.

Nor do we join the righteous demands for Mr Blair to apologise for the war. There is not the slightest chance of his doing so, and it would be insincere and unconvincing if he did. As it is, the sincerity of Mr Blair's mild admission that Iraq cast a "shadow" over last week's elections is doubtful enough. As we report today, he is expected shortly to announce the deployment of further troops.

The Prime Minister is quite right to insist on looking forwards, and to enjoin critics and supporters of the war to come together to try to make the best of the situation in the Middle East as it is rather than as we would prefer it to be. If more British troops are needed, they must be sent. But that cannot mean simply forgetting the errors of the past. While it is futile to expect Mr Blair to apologise for the war, he will deserve to be re-elected next year only if he openly acknowledges that mistakes were made.

This is, emphatically, not a matter of breast-beating for the sake of it. A prime minister who does not admit his mistakes cannot learn from them. That takes us to the heart of the issue. Robin Cook, who resigned from the Cabinet rather than take responsibility for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, wants Mr Blair to "make clear that there will be no more Iraqs if he is re-elected". So far, the Prime Minister has made it all too evident that he would "do the same again" in similar circumstances. That is precisely what many voters are worried about.

Next month's report of Lord Butler's committee on the pre-war intelligence failures will be a critical test. A few days ago Mr Blair seemed to be edging towards a new definition of the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "There was an intention of Saddam Hussein at some point to reconstitute it [the programme]," he told the BBC. He is going to have to be more honest and open than that. He is going to have to accept that he was not as careful in interpreting uncertain intelligence as he might have been, and that his rush to judgement might have at least "subconsciously influenced" the spies in endorsing the case for war, as Lord Hutton found. That ought to make it all but impossible to fight another pre-emptive war on the basis of intelligence alone.

Admitting mistakes in order to learn from them is the start of wisdom.

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