Today, I listened to Tony Blair's monthly press conference. It was, as always, a tour de force in evasion, misrepresentation and irrationality. You would expect nothing less.
In his opening remarks, astonishingly, he made no mention of the death sentence handed down to Saddam Hussein yesterday. Under particularly robust and persistent questioning (from Adam Bolton of Sky News, would you believe?) he repeatedly refused to say whether he was opposed to the execution of Saddam. Finally, when other journalists refused to let it lie, and with evident exasperation, he said that he was "against the death penalty, whether it is Saddam Hussein or anybody else". It was clear that he absolutely did not want to express this view. It is equally clear that our government will not be in any hurry to express this view to the Iraqi government.
At one point, Blair launched into another long rebuttal of the view that his policies have caused an increase in support for terrorism. Strip away the verbiage and it appears that our great leader is unable to understand the difference between the words "justify" and "explain". This from a man who once said "Education! Education! Education!". Perhaps he should have started by buying himself a dictionary.
He also tried out a new version of his description of the results of the elections in Iraq. He used to say that 70% of Iraqis voted for a "government of national unity", a claim which is easily disproved by anyone with only a passing acquaintance with the facts. His new version is apparently an attempt to describe the results in a way which is consistent with his fantastical view of the situation but which isn't quite so blatantly ridiculous. He failed. (I'll probably write a bit more detail on this when the transcript is posted. If I heard him correctly, it really was a pearler.)
The main reason why I watched the press conference though, was to find out what he was going to say about Lord Goldsmith's involvement in the cash for peerages investigation. Lord Goldsmith has declined to step aside from the process; it appears that any prosecution would be dependent on his consent. He has insisted that his involvement, if necessary, would be "independent and apolitical".
Lord Goldsmith, it should be remembered, is known to have donated money to the Labour Party. In 1999, Blair made him a life peer. In 2001, Blair appointed him as the Attorney General.
And he may now be allowed to make the final decision as to whether the Prime Minister should be prosecuted over improper links between donations and peerages during his tenure at Number 10.
The Ministerial code, introduced by Blair, says that "Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests". Blair and Goldsmith are both Ministers (assuming this list is correct - I'm no expert on the Attorney General's constitutional position). At the very least, absolutely undeniably, Goldsmith's involvement in this case appears to create a significant conflict of interest.
If the Ministerial Code means anything at all, if even a passing association with credibility is to be maintained, Goldsmith absolutely must step aside from any involvement in this process. Should he be involved? No, he should not. It isn't a difficult question to answer.
But what did Blair say when asked? He point blank refused to comment on it in any way whatsoever. "I've just got absolutely nothing to say on this at all" he told Gary Gibbon. Martha Kearney was likewise rebuffed as was a third enquirer. Nothing.
Blair, given three clear chances, refused to rule out the possibility that the man he appointed as Attorney General will be able to veto any prosecution against him which the CPS might wish to bring to the courts. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Blair intends and expects Goldsmith to do exactly that if the need arises.
We have become used to the Blair's government displaying all the integrity of a particularly shady Banana Republic but this is spectacular even for them. It simply is not acceptable.
Tags: News, Politics, Sleaze, Tony Blair