I TUNED in to Prime Minister's Questions yesterday expecting to see Charles Kennedy confront Mr Blair over the government's allegations that the Liberal Democrats had been Saddam Hussein “appeasers” or “supporters” because of their opposition to the Iraq war. This is not a new issue but Foreign Secretary Jack Straw re-ignited it on Tuesday in a BBC Today interview by repeating the accusations and saying that Mr Kennedy's position “dare not speak its name in terms of their policy”. The Liberal Democrat leader was on the Today programme within fifteen minutes asking for an apology and followed up with an article in yesterday's Independent with the headline “Why I'm demanding an apology from Tony Blair”.

It was disappointing, therefore, that in the House of Commons yesterday Mr Kennedy confined his two questions to the expected transfer of soldiers of the Black Watch from Basra to replace US troops needed for the impending attack on Fallujah. Perhaps, since he represents a Scottsh constituency, Mr Kennedy felt he had to focus on the controversial role being assigned to a Scottish regiment. In any case, there is time to return to the Saddam-appeaser accusation since it goes to very heart of the government's duplicity on Iraq. In the past, when he still expected to find weapons of mass destruction, Mr Blair frequently said that he “fully understands” the reasons that led many to oppose the war; but he has now shifted his ground and made the removal of Saddam Hussein the justification for the war and, consequently, must attack those who believe that regime change was illegal and inappropriate.

Mr Straw's snide remark on Today was not in the best tradition of British political debate although it would hardly have been noticed in the dirty electoral campaign currently in progress elsewhere.


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