Saturday 1 October 2016

Gaunt, haunted and hoarse: Blair looked a broken man

Michael Deacon

Published 07/07/2016 | 02:30

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a press conference to respond to the Chilcot Report Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a press conference to respond to the Chilcot Report Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Tony Blair was sorrowful. But he wasn't sorry.

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He apologised for "the mistakes in planning and process". He apologised for relying "too much on the assurances I was given". He apologised "for the mistakes in intelligence, even though I'm not responsible for that".

Detail of a declassified handwritten letter sent by Tony Blair to George Bush Photo: REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool
Detail of a declassified handwritten letter sent by Tony Blair to George Bush Photo: REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

Anything else? "It would have been better to have more formal options papers presented to Cabinet at certain points."

But he wouldn't apologise for the invasion of Iraq itself. He still believed it had been "the right thing to do". He still believed he would take the same decision again, in the same circumstances, with the same information. And he still believed - still - that the world was a safer place because of what he, and George W Bush, had done.

He wasn't sorry for any of that. No matter how sorry he looked. And he did look sorry: sorry in the sense of wretched, miserable, diminished. His skin was waxily gaunt. He looked like a haunted mannequin.

As for his voice: it was worn, drained, at times rasping, at others pleading - and at others, hoarsely defiant. At the beginning, he kept faltering and leaving unnatural gaps, as if his throat were dry, or he were gulping for breath.

What to make of it all? An honest plea for understanding from a broken man? Or a performance, an immaculately executed impersonation of one?

This is his trouble. If people don't believe he was honest in taking Britain to war, they won't believe he's honest in anything. He will always be under suspicion, no matter what he says, and no matter how he sounds when he says it.

At one point he bemoaned the modern "addiction to believing the worst of everyone" in politics. As it happens, I think he's right: we must break that addiction. But he needs to realise where it originated. It didn't originate solely in the expenses scandal. It also originated in the Iraq war, its build-up, and its never-ending aftermath.

Mr Blair was speaking in central London, around two and a half hours after the Chilcot report was published. He made a speech lasting 50 minutes - and then took questions from the media for a further 70.

As the questioning went on, there seemed to be a gradual change in his tone.

More defensive, more frustrated. "Please stop saying I was lying," he sighed, half imploring, half irritated. Again and again, he begged his critics to understand how difficult it is to make decisions of this magnitude. I suspect, though, that his critics do understand that. What they want him to understand is that his decision was wrong.

"OK?" he croaked, after two hours. "I think ... that's enough." I'm not sure it was.

Telegraph.co.uk

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