Belfast Telegraph

Pontius Pilate isn't the only one washing his hands this Easter

By Eamonn McCann

Mr Blair, many might think it inappropriate that you should continue to appear on the national stage, given what we now know about your involvement in the Iraq war."

"I have listened to these allegations for some considerable time, and have given a clear answer. It will be up to the members of the Labour Party and its voters to decide what role I should play. I think you will find that I retain their support."

"My point is that it's widely accepted that you were the prime mover in pushing for a war now seen as cruel and futile. But you have not given a full account of your own involvement or defended the role which it is now accepted you played."

"This point has been put to me over and over again. My answer has not changed. I had no hand, act or part in the Iraq war."

"But colleagues have come forward to say that they were in the Cabinet room with you when the Iraq war was being discussed and that you were very much in favour of it."

"I wasn't present at any such meetings. I was attending a closed retreat at Brompton Oratory at the time."

"No, you weren't."

"Well, all right. I must have been somewhere else, then. What's certain is that I was never at any meeting where there was talk of war or decisions made about war. I had nothing to do with any of that."

"But Mr Blair, all this is common knowledge. It is included in every account of the war which has been published. Apart from your own account, of course."

"We could waste one another's time continuing with this all night. The plain truth is, I had nothing to do with the Iraq war. I sympathise with the families of all who perished in the conflict, of course, and I have pledged to do all in my power to ease their pain, despite the fact that I personally have no responsibility for any of it."

"The late Robin Cook was quoted at length in a book published after his death by the MP for Lewes, Norman Baker, saying that he had had a number of arguments with you about whether particular aspects of the war could be justified and that you were adamant about going ahead."

"Robin was a dear friend. I knew him a lot better than Mr so-called Baker. Robin and I did disagree from time to time. But I spoke to him just days before his death. He hadn't been well, you know. He had many, many problems. Still, we hugely enjoyed being together again, chewing the fat, raking over the days of our urgent youth, having a bit of the oul' craic. We parted on the best of terms. 'Tony,' he said, 'You and I have had our differences, God knows. But I feel immensely relieved that we have now been totally reconciled. If anybody says different after I die, you tell them from me they are lucky I'm not around, that's all.' I think that clears it up."

"I am not sure that it does, Mr Blair. Mr Baker maintains that he has set down the words of the interview verbatim, and that the former Foreign Secretary says unambiguously that it was you who insisted that the action go ahead."

"Norman Baker has been a bitter political opponent of mine for many years. A Liberal Democrat, you know. I have it on good authority he was paid for writing that book. Motivated by greed for money and political spite, if you ask me."

"It remains the case, does it not, that since you were the leader of the Labour Party at the time of the invasion . . ."

"You've got it wrong there, squire. I was never leader of the Labour Party. In fact, I have never been a member of the Labour Party. I never joined."

"How is it then, Mr Blair, that so many thousands of people voted for the Labour Party in the belief that you were its leader - indeed, it's said, strange as it might seem now, on account of believing that you were its leader?"

"I do not accept that. All I can say, and I am becoming weary of saying it, is that I am not - and never have been - a member of the British Labour Party."

"Mr Blair, I myself have a clear memory of you standing on a wooden box at a street corner in Sedgefield shouting, 'Join the Labour Party. Anybody who doesn't join the Labour Party is a traitor to their community and will never get a job in community development. Join the Labour Party or roast in hell!' But you are telling me now you didn't take your own advice?"

"What I am telling you is that I am not - and have never been - a member of the Labour Party. I cannot put it any more clearly."

"Mr Blair, do you know of a single person anywhere who believes you?"

"I am beginning to find this irritating. I am off to the Holy Land to bring peace and find Jesus. Pip! Pip!"


From Belfast Telegraph