David Blackburn

Déjà vu | 21 January 2011

Déjà vu | 21 January 2011
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Tony Blair is beguiling the Chilcot Inquiry once again. He was majestic last time – quick witted, sincere and convinced. There was nothing in that benign hearing room to alter, as he might have put it, the ‘calculus of risk’. His ease was sufficient to crack subtle jokes at Gordon Brown’s expense, and most emerged from the hearing believing that Britain had actually been at war with Iran. He is already ploughing those same furrows, albeit with a barely audible note of impatience, irritated that these banal proceedings continue.

Iran is the new Iraq, Blair says, and he publicly takes a ‘hard line’ against Tehran, just as his government, in its entirety, had done with Saddam Hussein. Pressed further on the subject of Cabinet discussions, Blair revealed that junior members of his Cabinet were concerned about the political consequences of close alliance with President Bush, (not unreasonably as it proved.) Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell describe the lingering unease in their respective memoirs, as myopic party political instincts collided with the grandeur of global affairs. It also resonates with Jack Straw's and Geoff Hoon's evidence to the inquiry last year. So far then, 'The Master' is giving another masterclass.

Chilcot’s opening remarks were unremarkable, even respectful. The inquiry is not conerned with legality and Blair would ‘have his piece’ on what other Prime Ministers could learn from his experience. So, what has the Heir to Blair learnt? The legacy of Blair’s adventure in Iraq is to have diminished Britain's self-confidence. Even the Cameroons, who indulge in most practices before Blair’s altar, have forsaken liberal intervention - one explanation for the prominence of the international development brief. There are no true heirs to Blair. Steve Richards’ column in yesterday’s independent concludes:

‘On the domestic front Mr Blair still holds extraordinary sway. His public service reforms, which sometimes had a chaotic quality in their more limited manifestations, are now being fully realised by David Cameron. Senior Tory ministers idolise Mr Blair. But in terms of the calculations that led to the nightmare of Iraq, he is a ghostly figure from another age.’