Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Tony Blair at Iraq Inquiry: Wordy inquisitors play into hands of political showman

A protester in a Tony Blair mask outside the Chilcot Inquiry venue

Tony Blair, making his second appearance before the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, arrived looking tense, drawn and even worried as he nervously fingered an impressive-looking red dossier on the table in front of him.

Some four-and-a-half hours later, after prolonged and intricate questioning, often in great detail, relieved only by two |10-minute breaks, the former Prime Minister showed no signs of fatigue or irritation.

Indeed, he gave every impression that he could cheerfully have continued for another four-and-a-half hours.

Not once did he falter during this interrogation which was |designed to clear up alleged gaps and discrepancies in his earlier appearance.

Blair may have been absent from the public debating arena for three years, but he showed that he had lost none of his showmanship and panache.

Nothing fazed him, not even those questions — and there were quite a few of them — which were of inordinate length and occasionally of almost |impenetrable complexity.

What this inquiry needs — if yesterday's events were anything to go by — is a sharp injection of the John Bercow technique. Mr Bercow certainly knows how to curtail the garrulous. “We've got the point,” he tells wordy MPs, as he cuts them off while in full flow.

Members of the inquiry, notably the droning Sir Roderic Lyne, would have benefited from that treatment yesterday. He and his colleagues repeatedly pointed out that they had |little time at their disposal, and then proceeded to embark on questions of the utmost prolixity and complication.

All this was to Mr Blair's advantage, since short, sharp snappy questions would probably have served his would-be tormentors much better.

Mr Blair remained upbeat throughout. He dealt with the tricky questions with aplomb. For instance, his audience never really discovered whether (as one questioner alleged) Lord Goldsmith, the then Attorney General, was actually discouraged from giving legal advice on the crisis.

He also discounted claims that sufficient resources were not available to deal in particular with the aftermath of the |invasion.

He discounted the allegation that he was at least in part to blame for creating a power vacuum in Iraq which was exploited by al-Qaida, pointing out that terrorists who were prepared to blow themselves up did not require a power vacuum to destabilise countries.

Mr Blair was animated throughout the session, gesticulating almost constantly, and |occasionally even waving his spectacles at the panel.

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