Arriving early and sneaking in through a back door to avoid protesters, Tony Blair arrived at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. How different from that bright May morning in 1997 when, on the steps of number 10, Tony announced a new dawn for Britain.
The previous evening, back in`97, a less portly and more optimistic hippo settled in front of the television with a large bottle of Scotch and a catering sized bucket of Twiglets. When the Portillo moment arrived and the scale of the landslide became clear, the hippo, wet-faced with little tears of hope, tip-toed to his sleeping babies and gently kissed their foreheads, the future seeming brighter.
After 18 years of Thatcher and Major which brought riotous civil disorder, jingoistic military adventures and parliamentary sleaze, with New Labour in charge, things could only get better. Oh dear, what a disappointment. The undoubted achievements of the Blair and Brown administrations will forever be overshadowed by the monumental mistakes that could so easily have been avoided.
The television images of a youthful Tony ready to mend a broken society in 1997 have been replaced by a grey, shifty looking lawyer circling around the rather benign questioning from the Chilcot inquiry. The good Baroness and the four noble knights do not seem to share the Jeremy Paxman gene. When preparing for war, Blair talked about the “threat” of WMD`s. In a shift of position, today he talks of the “risk” of possible development based on his assessment of some dubious intelligence. There was, he claims, no pact “signed in blood” with George Dubya, no deceit, no sexing up and no cover up. There was no deception, he said, just a decision. History, and not Chilcot, will judge if the decision was correct.
There is no mention of the Chilcot inquiry on the former Prime Minister`s own website, “The Office of Tony Blair”. Instead it leads with news of the completion of phase one of a sewage treatment project in Gaza. Processing raw sewage now seems to be something of a specialty for Teflon Tony. On leaving Downing Street, he was appointed representative in the Middle East for the quartet of interested parties consisting of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia. Putting the road map to peace in the hands of someone who just ordered an invasion in the region is a little like asking the bull to clean up the mess in the china shop.
On May 6, the hippo will once again settle down with the Scotch and the Twiglets and watch the results come in. At some point in the early hours, foreheads now 13 years older will be kissed and a whispered, futile apology offered for failing, violent schools, unclean hospitals, tuition fees and the prospect of a NEET future.
This time there will probably be big tears of trepidation.