Quickfire for The Record 30/01/10
Tanned, toned and talking the talk – Tony Blair showed he had lost none of his gifts of showmanship when he took the stand in front of the Chilcot inquiry.
If he appeared slightly nervous at first it did not take long for Teflon Tony to get into his stride. The tension in the room eased as his familiar voice began an apparently reasoned explanation of why Britain waged a war that cost the lives of 179 British service personnel, thousands of civilians casualties and fermented terrorism across the Middle East.
Mr Blair had arrived in secret two hours before the inquiry began. Security meant his life was not in danger but his reputation and his legacy were certainly at risk when he faced the public inquisition.
Anti-war protesters, who will haunt Tony Blair to the grave, formed a choir outside with Westminster Abbey in the background. This is how gladiator day at the Colosieum in ancient Rome must have looked with tents and scaffolds to shelter media crews and yellow jacketed centurions guarding the entrance to the arena.
An queue of the ordinary British public forming an orderly snaking shape to get through security brought the scene back to the 21st century. They sat on the lottery allocated seats in the inquiry room or the overflow hall where we were all glued to TV monitors.
But if this was to be Tony Blair's judgement day the lions turned out to be toothless. He quickly turned his dock into another swansong on the centre stage.
Fluent, polite but determined not to give any ground Mr Blair gently talked the inquiry and the world through his reasons for going to war. He, and only he it seemed, had seen the world shift on its axis after 9/11. It was only a matter of time before rogue nations like Iraq and terror organisations started swapping WMDs with apocalyptic consequences for us all.
Deeper tanned and with greyer hair he did not deviate an inch from the line that Saddam had to be taken out by any means necessary. These were not his actual words, he spoke of disarmament, compliance and military options. But he exhibited the same steely determination that took him through the million strong anti-war protests, the anger of bereaved parents, as he said there were no lies and no regrets.
He slipped up over his slip up with Fern Brittan. It was a clumsy U-turn to a 'when did you stop beating your wife' kind of question. But for the most part he was fluent. With the personal stakes so high in that political cauldron of he pulled it off. The panel had no real armour to match his version of history.
When he asks us to imagine 2010 with Saddam still in power he was also warning the world that it faces the same decisions all over again with Iran. Basically he and George Bush had the “cojones” to take out Saddam and the next generation of leaders had to show the same courage with Tehran.
It was defiant stuff. No mistakes, no apology no regret. He knew what he was doing. It was a first class, lawyerly defence laced with the political vision he has always been able to communicate.
He believed the invasion was right, he believed that the cabinet had been given their say, he believed that ultimately he had done the right thing.
He believed every single word as he uttered them. That was always Tony Blair's exceptional political gift.