I was only able to watch the first couple of hours so a lot of this is based on second hand information, mostly of the disappointing variety. As the lunch break was approaching, it seemed as if the tough questions were about to come out and Blair was in for a real grilling. At this point, I had to go out and was only able to catch up with what i missed this morning. According to what I’ve read so far, I didn’t miss much of import.
Possibly it was a case of ‘saved by the lunch break’ for Blair. Most sources are saying that over the course of the afternoon he grew steadily more and more comfortable and began to dominate the pace and flow of the proceedings. When I left it, the panel seemed to have set themselves up quite well to start on the real meat of the matter- from the point of view of most average members of society at least- why did we go to war?
In the build up to Blair’s appearance yesterday and in the wake of former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s contributions, there was also extensive debate in the media about the issue of the legality of the war but I believe this is of secondary importance to the man in the street. I don’t believe there are large numbers of people who want Blair fingered as a war criminal (if you are one of these people, you should have a look here), they simply want to be told the truth, not manipulated with half-truths and propanganda. The very word ‘dossier’ has been tainted for years to come thanks to the way in which the public were informed, misinformed, disinformed- take your pick- initially through the Sun newspaper about the intelligence collected on Saddam and Iraq’s capabilities and level of threat.
On Twitter, as the questioning was unfolding, plenty were likening what they were seeing to the film Frost/Nixon, a slightly misleading comparison in that it is if anything probably more true in reverse- the questions got less taxing, the answers got longer, the balance of power slowly shifted towards Blair. That said, the need for a more exacting inquisitor applies in both cases and I cannot have been alone in bemoaning the absence of Jeremy Paxman from the panel to prevent Blair from answering questions of his own choosing rather than the ones posed.
In the end, as most people expected beforehand, little was really learned to answer the public’s big questions, the issues we care about most were not fully addressed. The viewers hoping to see Blair crack up, get down on his knees and confess he sent in the boys to his hands on some of Saddam’s oil were always going to be disappointed, but a lot of people today have a slightly bitter taste in their mouths after what they see as a waste of time- we still don’t really have much more than ‘Saddam was a bad man’ to go on as a justification.
To his credit, Blair stuck to his guns throughout, and more than once said that he felt the same way now and, even with the benefit of hindsight, would make the same choices again. This left me with the belief that Blair himself considers the war to have been necessary and justified despite his inability to impart this conviction to his public.