Peter Oborne

Will the Tories vote against the government over the war?

Will the Tories vote against the government over the war?

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All prime ministers need to be sustained by one necessary but reassuring myth: the illusion that they are in control. Some, exceptionally lucky, prime ministers are able to leave office with that illusion intact. But Tony Blair is close to the horrifying moment, which can be the psychological equivalent of a car crash, when that comfortable falsehood is stripped away. It is the moment when a political leader ceases to be the plausible architect and becomes instead the public victim of events. Till now Tony Blair has been portrayed by his numerous admirers as a strong, confident leader. This week two developments changed that picture, maybe for good.

The first came on the international stage, with the declaration by President Chirac that he would veto the second United Nations resolution on Iraq, whatever the circumstances. Chirac has played his limited hand disgracefully but with great skill. His game is for very high stakes, and utterly consistent with the Gaullist tradition, based on a narrow, unscrupulous, cold-hearted assessment of national interest, upon which he was reared.

Only one interpretation squares with the facts as far as Chirac's behaviour is concerned. He is deliberately setting out to destroy the British Prime Minister, and has already come close to success. It is well-known that personal rancour exists between the two men. But behind that hostility lies two opposite and irreconcilable objectives.

Chirac believes in the creation of a powerful, federal Europe, fully the equal of the United States, a superpower in its own right, with its own set of interests and objectives, within which France would play a leading role. In pursuit of that goal he is setting out to fracture the alliance between Europe and America, and Tony Blair is the natural target. For all the ingenuous protestations about standing in the heart of Europe