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30th January, 2010
ON A GREY DAY IN LONDON THE POLITICAL SUPERSTAR SHONE
Unfortunately I didn’t get a ticket for the actual inquisition, interrogation, court witness hearing room, but in the Additional Viewing Facility downstairs, interestingly, if not co-incidentally named the Churchill Auditorium.
I received a ticket to the 2:00pm session. We were all provided with a personally named and numbered sticker in order to permit us to watch the proceedings on a large screen. The 700 seats allocated were not all taken. Many with tickets had obviously decided not to attend unless they could actually see the man in the flesh. I had even considered that course of (in)action myself. In the end I’m glad I went. I heard various estimates of the turn-out being between 450 and 550. My guess is the upper end of that.
CIVILISED BEHAVIOUR FROM THE LIBERAL TENDENCY
The audience in this particular session were quiet, mostly middle-class, middle-aged and well-behaved. A little like a Liberal Democrat debate where policies are hammered out earnestly after much forensic detail in the full expectation that they will never have to be implemented. I heard from someone who attended the morning session that in that earlier session in the Additional Viewing room one man stood up in disgust and loudly proclaimed that he couldn’t listen to “any more of this”. It seems he was told by others around to behave or go, so he exited. Civilised behaviour requiring actual listening was clearly expecting too much.
THE SHAKING-HEAD TIC
Nothing like this happened, within my view in any case, at the afternoon session. But in front of me sat two grey-haired ladies of the shaking-head tendency. I think there may have been a younger version of the same variety a few seats from me. From the ladies in front each head-shake was accompanied by a sigh, an exchange of knowing, raised eyebrow glances, rolling eyes and a ‘tch-tch’, one in American English. WOW! They’ll come any distance to watch a good lynching of a western politician. I spotted no foot-of-the-gallows knitting, though.
‘CHEERS’ SAID THE SOBER PANEL
Even before the screen went live, we all knew it was about to start by the familiar clinking of glasses and some burbling, gurgling noises. No, the panel were not toasting the sudden croaking of their prize suspect witness before their eyes, thus conveniently robbing them of the need to find him “guilty/not guilty as charged/not charged.” They were pouring the customary glasses of water.
And then HE arrived. Mr Blair made his entrance after several seconds of unknowable expectation and a searching sideways glance by the chairman – was he there? had he done a runner? He made his entrance, in his own time, aware as ever of impressions. HE was not awaiting the judges panel. He looked smart as always in a dark blue suit and a dark red tie. He was serious, as was to be expected, possibly slightly apprehensive, as too would be expected. But I did not notice the shaking hands referred to by some reporting on the morning session. He was the lucid and eloquent Blair we all came to love/hate (delete as necessary) and seemed ready to take it all in his capable stride.
There are several video clips online of sections of his entire day’s evidence sessions. All six hours of video and transcript are here at The Iraq Inquiry website. Don’t take my word for it, or the press’s choice clips. Go there and see for yourself.
[Aside: Can you imagine Saddam Hussein being expected to answer questions like this? Ahmadinejad, Putin or Russia's present president? Mugabe? The Chinese leadership? Me neither. Although I do not agree with this fifth Inquiry in principle, because it will never satisfy the unsatisfiable, we should be proud that we have questioned our former Prime Minister in public like this and will even do so with the present prime minister before many weeks have passed. I'm quite keen on having the Conservative Party answer questions too, and the anti-Iraq war Liberal Democrats. Oh - and the press.]
THE ‘CIVIL RIGHTS ROBBER’ ANSWERS FOR HIS DECISIONS
Yesterday was about the top man in Britain at the time of the Iraq decisions answering questions for a whole day. I repeat – for that in this open, western democracy we should be extremely proud. It looks like Tony Blair did not quite manage, as has been suggested by civil righters, to wrap us all mute in a police state after all. (Tch…tch… knowing head shake, rolling eyes… another ‘failure’.)
Picture above from the Washington Post
When I first arrived at Westminster it was raining lightly. A helicopter flew past Big Ben and hovered in various spots. This is only a few hundred yards/metres from the Queen Elizabeth II Centre. It seems they were monitoring the millions, thousands … er hundred or two protestors who were bellowing to themselves “Tony Blair, go to Jail”. I know they were addressing one another because several policemen I asked said they weren’t listening. Those poor servants of peace and “Stop the War” demos were the only ones around in any number who were forced to hear.
‘Listening’… well, that’s another matter.
‘B.LIAR’ YELPED THE B***** LIARS
So, through the light London drizzle I wandered across to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, which is opposite Westminster Cathedral and a few hundred yards from the Palace of Westminster – The Houses of Parliament. The yellow-jacketed police were the first into my view. Then I heard the mega-phoned voices. Not until virtually standing opposite did I spot the Ban the Bombers, gathered to the left of the venue. My guess is at most two hundred, perhaps even half of that. Their banners and placards spread their presence in a distorted way, which is appropriate, given their distorted message.
NO LYNCHING OPPORTUNITY HERE – NOTHING TO SEE – MOVE ON
The barrier around the green stopped anyone without a ticket for the relevant session from entering the entire area immediately in front of the venue. So the Blair jailers were forced to set up their stalls on the pavement in front or to one side of the venue, set aside for them. The police were evidently not expecting thousands. The police were right. I passed several armed policemen but they seemed to be chatting about other things, football, snooker or tennis perhaps, rather than about anything as challenging as preventing the hanging of a politician from a nearby tree.
The green in front of the centre on which they originally wanted to perform had been banned to these dwindling numbers of the righteous. Easy to see why. The press were there in numbers, many under canopies to do their interviews. The Stop The War warriors had complained as though there was no real reason for their refused permission apart from protecting Tony Blair from their unwelcome screaming and yelling. As so often before, they got it wrong. That was simply the only place near the venue capable of serving the presence of the world’s press.
As I stood in the queue to enter for the afternoon session I am sure I heard a voice I’d have preferred not to hear – ‘Gorgeous George’. But oddly enough, and I don’t know why, he had only spoken a dozen words before the speaker went silent. What!!? I worried myself sick for all of two seconds. Had someone shot him? Or arrested him in the name of peace and right and honesty and integrity an’ all that? I still haven’t worked out why George Galloway stopped talking. It’s never been known before.
Just had it confirmed over at Rentoul’s that I was right about Gorgeous George. He was there. And here’s the proof.
I didn’t hang around the venue while the morning session was on, preferring to watch TV coverage in a local hostelry than to watch the Stop Gang stopping nothing, not even the traffic.
THE MASTER’S VOICE
The staff at the pub off Smith Square were very kind and specially for me found the controls for their little-used TV set. I probably irritated many late morning drinkers as they had to listen to politics in the background. Still, by the time I had to leave quite a few of them were tuning in to The Master’s performance, with him or not politically. He still has not lost that ability to gently command attention, again, with him or not. A rare quality in a politician and something we allowed ourselves to lose so carelessly, not so long ago.
Go here to Julie’s to read significant items from Tony Blair’s morning session evidence. You will read none of the bias, opining or cherry-picking we get from our blessed press. Only direct quotes from Mr Blair and the panel. Links there too to the Iraq Inquiry website and the full transcript.
At the Iranian state-sponsored PRESS TV (a George Galloway employer) this bastion of freedom, justice and democracy has its own take on the Inquiry hearing of Tony Blair. I expect they are thinking of doing the same thing with Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader.
Read more in the next post on Tony Blair’s afternoon session which I attended, with more pictures of the external goings-on.
Tags: Additional Viewing Facility, Churchill Auditorium, George Galloway, Iraq inquiry, pictures of Tony Blair at Iraq Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, Stop the War warriors, Tony Blair, Trial of Tony Blair, witness