Boiled down to its essence, the prime minister’s line at today’s session of Lord Hutton’s inquiry seemed to be that “the buck stops with me … but I did have a lot of other things on my plate”.
“The responsibility is mine in the end, I take the decision as prime minister,” he insisted, before adding, several times, that: “I was immensely busy with other things.”
Thus we were treated to a portrait of a man in command of the bigger picture, but naturally having to delegate the small stuff to his army of lickspittles. On several occasions he seemed irritated at even being quizzed about them. Requested to study several emails on screen, he would nod and shrug in faint exasperation. You half expected him to ask gentle James Dingemans to please get a move on, because the lawn needs mowing and I’m a very busy man.
Elsewhere, he found the time to dazzle the gallery with some legal doublespeak. The prime minister is a genius of pointing out that there are two very different options where us laymen assumed there was only one. One of these options, he implies, is good, and the other is really quite wickedly bad.
“The dossier was not a justification for war,” he insisted at one point. “It was to show why we had to return to the issue of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction.”
Later, when discussing the Ministry of Defence’s teasing technique of outing David Kelly to the press, he stressed that: “I think the basic view would have been not to, as it were, offer the name but on the other hand not to mislead people.” Most of us would struggle to slide a cigarette paper between those two choices, but Blair managed it with aplomb.