UK: Don't expect contrition from Blair. whose deceit cost so many lives and crippled our standing in the world for a generation

Today sees the most eagerly anticipated theatrical appearance since Jerry Hall stripped off on a London stage a decade ago.

This show will be much less funny and even more widely reviewed, though its star is unlikely to emulate Hall by undressing. It is Tony Blair giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq war.

It is unprecedented for a former Prime Minister to be required to provide a public explanation about why he led the country into an international conflict.
Tony Blair is said to have told George Bush ''We are going to be with you' before Britain joined the war in Iraq

Tony Blair is said to have told George Bush ''We are going to be with you' before Britain joined the war in Iraq

Eden escaped interrogation about his 1956 Suez fiasco. Thatcher gave evidence privately to the Franks Inquiry on the 1982 Falklands War.

Blair stands in the dock - and that is how most thoughtful people view the position he will occupy - to answer the grievous charge that he committed the Armed Forces to fight, kill and die under false pretences.

In 2003, he told Parliament and the nation that the invasion of Iraq was an act of selfdefence to protect us from the intolerable threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

These proved not to exist. Yet Blair had already given private assurances that Britain would join President Bush's lunge to destroy a dictator whom he obsessively disliked.

Blair's account of himself should be the stuff of high drama, especially after a long procession of authoritative witnesses, including several members of his own government, have already given evidence of their impassioned opposition to Britain's role in Iraq.

The Foreign Office almost to a man believed the invasion unjustified and probably illegal.

But I would rather watch snow melt than queue for a seat in the gallery at today's hearing.

We know exactly what Blair will say, because he and his acolytes have said it so often before. We shall witness a display of self-righteousness that would make a Catholic martyr blush. Blair will say he was confident what he was doing was right, and that he would do the same again tomorrow.

He will leave the inquiry to resume his vastly profitable career as a public speaker and consultants to the plutocracy, including such temples of conspicuous consumption as Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.

He has made millions since leaving Downing Street in 2007, almost sufficient to stay abreast of his wife's housing programme. Only this week, he clinched yet another deal - to advise Lansdowne, a big hedge fund which, oddly enough, made a fortune in 2008 betting against British banks in the market.

Nobody could accuse Blair of inconsistency. Since he quit the premiership, he has displayed a single-minded commitment to making money, matching that of his wife to spending it. Blair's comfort stops in Jerusalem to play Middle East peacemaker have prompted a rare show of unity between Israelis and Palestinians, who join in despising him.

So do most of his old colleagues. Former Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle said this week: 'His entire lifestyle is an ongoing embarrassment to everyone in the Labour Party.'

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews says: 'It has gone beyond embarrassing for the Labour Party, as he is someone who is now completely divorced from everything the party stands for.'

History's assessment of Blair will pay lavish tribute to his political skills. The man himself might say to Kilfoyle and Marshall-Andrews: 'Who was it that made Labour electable after 18 years in the wilderness and gave it power for 13 years?'

He was probably the finest British political speaker of modern times. He possessed near-genius in that essential political art, making people feel good.

He achieved a dominance in British politics that left the Tory Opposition clinging to the wreckage, and which enabled him again and again to survive embarrassments and scandals that would have destroyed a lesser escapologist.

Blair survived and prospered first, because the economy kept booming; second, because the Tories were so weak; and finally, because a carapace of conceit rendered him impervious to self-doubt.

All politicians need thick skins, but Blair was exceptional in his capacity sincerely to persuade himself that any course of action which he chose to adopt was right. Not just tactically clever, or expedient, or prudent, but virtuous and good. And, of course, OK with God.

It would be foolish to underestimate the latter point in the context of Iraq. Bush and Blair achieved spiritual fellowship.

They were alike fortified by believing they had divine endorsement for their actions, especially when mere political colleagues and their nations were showing doubt. The great thing about consulting God is that He - or She, as Cherie would say - is unlikely to answer back, or at least not this side of the grave.

I do not believe the Chilcot Inquiry has a cat's chance of landing a killer blow on Blair, either during his evidence or in its report. He will insist, as he has always insisted, that he truly believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

He will almost certainly repeat what his creature Alastair Campbell has already defiantly testified to the panel: that he would adopt the same course again tomorrow, in the same circumstances.

Unless he breaks down in tears, an unlikely eventuality, that line will protect him from an unequivocal guilty verdict.
'Don't raise your hopes, Ali. I doubt if Blair will be sent down here today.'

We must be realistic about public attitudes to Blair and Iraq. The British people are not nearly as angry as they should be.

Many voters seem willing to remember the Blair years as a time of prosperity, and to ignore the fact that on his watch, his Chancellor created the appalling public spending deficit for negligible benefit to the public services.

In many people's eyes, Iraq is the past. There are no longer British troops there. Public unhappiness and, indeed, anger focus on Afghanistan, which is now identified with Gordon Brown.

Brown certainly deserves blame for much mismanagement. But most of the big, bad decisions were made while Blair still occupied Downing Street.

Blair looked a much more impressive Prime Minister than Brown because he possessed charm and sustained a brilliant masquerade as a statesman, as his successor does not.

Yet posterity is likely to decide that Blair inflicted even graver damage upon his country. He presided over a government which ruined the economy, passed hundreds of bad laws, emasculated the Civil Service and ruthlessly suppressed dissent or unwelcome evidence.

He sustained a delusion of national success and wealth, which has since been exposed with the damage expected to last for a decade. And he supported George W. Bush in one of the most reckless and disastrous foreign policy adventures of modern history.

Scores of Whitehall witnesses have already made plain that British participation in the Iraq invasion was Blair's personal commitment, in the face of sustained and authoritative opposition from almost all those who understood the Middle East.

The contrast between what Blair did to his country and his own ascent to riches, after rowing away from the wreck, mocks the British people.

It is a misfortune that there is no public prosecutor at today's Chilcot hearing to point a finger across the chamber with the words: 'J'accuse!' Instead, we shall hear only the familiar tired, lame, unyielding self-justification, deferentially received by the panel.

But the dead are out there somewhere. We can imagine what they will say to good old Tony when they meet him.

That settlement day is likely to prove vastly more painful than the Chilcot Report for the former Prime Minister whose misjudgments and deceits cost so many lives and crippled Britain's standing in the world for a generation.

Liveleak on Facebook