by RAY FLEMING “THE fact that the government loses council election results doesn't really augur much for the General Election” said Tony Blair yesterday. Usually that is true but the long line of defeated Labour councillors insisting that they had lost their seats because of “Iraq” told a different story. The question that should concern the Prime Minister is whether Thursday's anti-Iraq demonstration at the polls will have satisfied the protestors or will be repeated at a general election. It would be unwise of Mr Blair to assume that the former is the case. As usual we heard from him that “lessons had to be learned” but this overworked phrase is not sufficient. What lessons?

Writing in yesterday's Independent newspaper, Robin Cook spelt out very clearly indeed the lessons that Mr Blair has to show he has learned: “The war was launched on a false prospectus, the occupation was ill-prepared, and the brutality at Abu Ghraib was a disgrace to all members of the coalition. Britain is in Iraq and Labour is in this fix, because the Prime Minister refused to heed any warning of the risks....On Iraq the responsibility is all his.” Unfortunately, although the Prime Minister seems ready to take the responsibility for the invasion of Iraq and its consequences, he is unwilling to accept that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong in any way. He has not yielded an inch in his justification for the war even though, on weapons of mass destruction, the case has fallen apart.

It is this stubborness that may be the undoing of Tony Blair if Labour's disaffected supporters still feel at the General Election that he has not “learned the lessons” they were trying to teach him last Thursday.