TONY Blair clearly does not care. He has his own agenda and nothing, no matter how important, will distract him from it. Yesterday, when the disastrous war he helped start in Iraq was being debated for the first time in almost three years in the House of Commons, he was not present even though he had been answering PM's Questions a few minutes earlier. He had a pressing engagement in North London with the Confederation of British Industry that took precedence. Downing Street had argued that since the debate on Iraq and the Middle East was technically an adjournment debate it did not require the presence of the prime minister and added that therefore, presumably neither Mr Cameron nor Sir Menzies Campbell would attend either. In the event, however, they both showed better judgement regardless of parliamentary etiquette. William Hague twisted the knife with his observation that it was unthinkable “an Atlee, a Churchill, a Callaghan or a Thatcher, would not be present to debate in time of war”.

Margaret Beckett was left alone with two junior Foreign Office ministers to hold the fort for her absent prime minister. But listening to her complacent defence it was hard not to recall President Bush's contrite words in his State of the Union address only a few hours earlier: “The result of failure in Iraq would be grievous and far reaching. Violence would turn contagious and spread beyond Iraq's borders and inflame the entire Middle East.”


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