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by RAY FLEMING
THE only person to emerge with credit from the confusion over the Butler Inquiry into the intelligence available on weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq war is Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats. He declined to support the Inquiry from the start on the grounds that its terms of reference were too narrow. Michael Howard claimed that he had won concessions on the Inquiry's remit which would make it possible for “the use made of the intelligence by the government” to be considered, and therefore agreed that the Conservatives would support the Inquiry. Tony Blair's purpose from the start has been to ensure that the Inquiry's field of vision would be as limited as possible in order to avoid any examination of the validity of his case for going to war. Mr Howard's abrupt withdrawal of Conservative support yesterday has become harder to understand in the hours since it was made known on Monday afternoon. He complained that Lord Butler was opposed to including “an examination of the acts or omissions of individuals” in handling intelligence material but yesterday Lord Butler explained that he believed it right to deal with “structures, processes and systems before considering which, if any, individuals should be held accountable.” In other words, he was not ruling out an assessment of “the use made of the intelligence by the government”. This makes Mr Howard look tactically inept and opportunistic, especially since the Conservative MP on the Inquiry, Michael Mates, has refused to step down from it. He needs to explain why the decision was taken at such short notice while his Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram was still defending the party's support of the Inquiry in a radio interview. Prime Minister's Questions today should be very interesting!