With one bound, will Tony go free?

Keith Waterhouse

Last updated at 00:00 05 June 2003

TO DECLARE an interest: Blair is an anagram of B. Liar. Or the other way round.

Whichever: I am not about to accuse Tony of uttering terminological inexactitudes, if only because he wouldn't recognise one if it came up and bit him in the leg.

Tony does not deal in truths or half-truths. He deals in what he can get away with. Or in what he happens to believe in at the moment - which in his case comes to the same thing.

Leaving his grammar at home, Tony has said: 'I think it is important that if people actually have evidence that they produce it.' (One 'that' too many there.) Evidence, and who has it or doesn't have it, is of course the key.

And a pretty tricky key it is. For instance, is the fact that we can't find any weapons of mass destruction evidence that they don't exist? If so, where is exhibit A? Conversely, is the fact that Tone still believes they do exist proof of their existence, even though he can't find them (and is no longer looking very hard)?

Produce exhibit B.

It will all come out in the wash, or so we hope.

After some unseemly prime ministerial shuffling, MPs have won a full-scale, cross-party parliamentary inquiry into who said what and to whom about those pesky weapons.

There is, of course, a 'Who cares?' school of thought which holds that Saddam had it coming and that the case for war lies in his previous form as a Middle East monster. If the foreign affairs select committee were to be straightforward with itself, that is the verdict it would come up with, leaving Tone free to draw a line under the episode and move on, to use two favourite New Labour catchphrases.

AS IT is, although there will be a few scapegoats, notably in the intelligence services and among our American cousins, my belief is that Tony Blair will come out of it relatively unscathed, his sweat-proof shirt uncrumpled.

In the days of the old penny dreadfuls there was a writer of blood and thunder serials who went off on holiday leaving his hero, Jack Harkaway, tied across the railway lines with an express train steaming towards him. Or he might have been trussed up in a sawmill with the lethal circular saw inches from his throat - I forget the details.

On the day his blood-and-thunder Boswell was due to return to resume Jack Harkaway's exploits, there was a terrible storm and our man was marooned on the other side of the Channel. With the printer's deadline approaching, the staff of the penny dreadful gathered desperately around to see how they could get Jack Harkaway out of trouble. Inspiration failed.

Then, at the last possible moment, the absentee scribbler strode into the office, thrust a sheet of paper into his typewriter and wrote: 'With one bound, Jack Harkaway was free . . .' Tony Blair is Jack Harkaway.

Whoever cops it in the aftermath of the War of Non-existent Weapons it will not be Tone.

Will he give evidence to the inquiry? I don't know, but if he does - unless he is unavoidably detained saving the world - he will be tremulously passionate in his innocence. He really does believe in what he is saving. He reminds me of that song in the musical 'How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying' where the hero sings 'I believe in you' - to a washroom mirror.

Tony Blair believes in Tony Blair who believes in Tony Blair. Jeffrey Archer is similarly afflicted, but he doesn't, of late, have all the luck.

Tony has the luck - so far.

House full

READERS by the three have been writing in to argue the toss over my belief that it was Albert Chevalier who sang the old music hall ditty, 'If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between . . .' On the contrary, they say, it was Gus Elen, of 'It's a great big shame' fame.

I could have sworn I had an old recording the size and thickness of a dinner plate with Albert Chevalier warbling 'Oh, it, really is a werry pretty garden' on one side and 'My old Dutch' on the other, but it seems to have gone walkabout. So I must defer to my knowledgeable readers.

Anyway, it gives me the excuse to reproduce the final verse, courtesy of Mr B. P. Warwick, who sent me a copy of the sheet music: 'Oh, it really is a werry pretty garden, And the soap works from the 'ouse-tops could be seen, If I got a rope and pulley, You'd enjoy the breeze more fully, If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between.' This correspondence is now closed.

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