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Stotty on Sunday: The signs are not good, Tony.

Byline: Richard Stott

THE Prime Minister does not lie, John Prescott told Labour MPs, unsettled by the gathering storm over the lack of weapons of mass destruction. No, he probably doesn't. But the fact Prescott had to say it means Tony Blair is not always caught out telling the truth.

When dealing with spooks and spies truth goes out of the window. Theirs is a world of shadows, half-truths, suppositions, gossip, whispers, winks, nods and disinformation. Put into that mix a politician who is committed to a particular course of action and we finish up with a very muddy brew.

We have been here before. When Mrs Thatcher embarked on her ill-advised attempt to ban Spycatcher, a particularly fanciful account of life in MI5, the Government was less than honest, provoking the immortal line from Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong that one of its statements "contains a misleading impression, not a lie. It was being economical with the truth".

Thatcher's mistake was trying to stop the unstoppable. Blair's that he committed himself to a course of action - the removal of Saddam as part of the war on terror - that was against international law unless Iraq presented an imminent danger and invasion was necessary in self-defence. Weapons of mass destruction provided the reason for war and after that it was a matter of making the facts fit the theory rather than the other way round.

Few believe his claim - that chemical and biological weapons could be activated within 45 minutes and Saddam had existing and active military plans to use them - was anything other than an assertion that Iraq presented a clear and present danger to Britain. Jack Straw's attempt to twist the words out of any natural meaning is a sure sign of a student taught at the Bill Clinton academy of devious politics.

Do we care? After all, a mass murderer was removed and Iraq freed. We should, for two reasons. First, the United Nations was set up specifically to prevent nations of great power from imposing their will on others by force without UN sanction. That is what the US and Britain did - all the wittering about carrying out UN resolutions is nonsense. If that really was so, why did we abandon a "go to war" resolution before invading? Because we knew we wouldn't get it.

Second, no Prime Minister can make a graver decision than to go into battle. His reasons for doing so must be transparent, honest and solidly based on fact, not on if and maybe. That is a fundamental contract between him and the people of Britain. You do not have to lie to play ducks and drakes with the truth.

The first thing Tony Blair promised when he became Prime Minister was transparency in government and to live up to the finest traditions of public service. Now Labour is reduced to the demeaning spectacle of Prescott blackmailing and threatening MPs in order to avoid a public inquiry into whether that same Prime Minister misled the nation when leading it into war. He's not the only one giving us a V-sign.

CAPTION(S):

HAND SIGNAL: Prescott; BODY LANGUAGE: Blair
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 8, 2003
Words:524
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