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Paul Routledge's column: Blair's talking a load of ballistics.

Byline: Paul Routledge

AND so the saga of deceit rolls on, poisoning everything it touches. Iraq has now become Tony Blair's weapon of self-destruction.

His second term of power is beginning to resemble the last days of John Major, when nothing went right for the Tories.

That is a truly amazing feat, when you consider that Labour has a majority of 160-plus, and the Major government had no majority at all.

But nothing lasts for ever, as the Prime Minister is discovering to his cost. He has also discovered that he did not know that his famous "45-minute" claim last autumn referred only to battlefield weapons, not ballistic missiles.

Can we believe him? Can we believe that the man in charge of this country, surrounded by experts, advisers, security chiefs, MoD brasshats, Uncle Tom Cobley and all did not know that he was talking about artillery shells with a range of a few hundred yards - not weapons that could directly threaten British interests.

My initial reaction is that he is either a fool or a liar. If the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger can make such a simple mistake, he ought not to be in the job.

If he did know - as his former Cabinet colleague Robin Cook insists - then he has deceived us, and continues to deceive us.

This is not a quibble about words. It is about whether our Prime Minister tells us the truth - and that must be in doubt despite the whitewash of the Hutton Report.

Tony Blair used the "45 minutes" claim to put the fear of God into the British people, and dragoon us into a war.

That he should now blithely tell Parliament "I didnae ken" beggars belief. He must think we came up the Clyde on a banana boat.

Geoff Hoon, who still describes himself as Defence Secretary, has also been found in possession of a defective memory.

He told the Hutton Inquiry that he was aware of the headlines that last September screamed about a Saddam Hussein nuclear missile attack on British holidaymakers and bases in Cyprus.

He was aware of them alright because his department, acting in concert with Downing Street, had ramped up the story about Saddam's arsenal to justify the impending war.

Yesterday, he had conveniently forgotten about this crude propaganda. He only saw the headlines a few weeks ago on a television programme.

Which of these two versions is correct? Do we believe Hoon Mark 1, the pre-war one? Or Hoon Mark 2, the post-war evasion? Or, to be on the safe side, should we maybe assume that both versions are fibs, spun on the spur of the moment to get out of trouble?

"Buff" Hoon most certainly knew that Saddam did not possess long-range nuclear weapons. And he expects us to believe that he did not tell the Prime Minister.

To say that this pair are straining our credulity would be the understatement of the year.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 6, 2004
Words:493
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