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A telling silence

Nick Robinson | 13:11 UK time, Monday, 6 November 2006

I went to today's prime ministerial news conference planning to ask about ID cards - the topic Tony Blair had himself chosen to highlight. That changed when the PM opened with not a single word about the conviction of Saddam Hussein yesterday. Not long ago he would have hailed the decision of an Iraqi court to convict the ex-Iraqi dictator as a turning point. His decision to say nothing about it until prompted was telling. Silence can be deafening.

Telling too was his hesitation when invited to condemn David Cameron's "tough love" speech. It was a phrase, he recalled, first used by Bill Clinton and amounted to pretty much the same thing as his call to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". Though he did remember the line later when he said that if you had a drug dealer living on your street then you don't want to give them love, you want them evicted and prosecuted.


  • 1.
  • At 01:36 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

Excuse my ignorance Nick but I can't work out why he didn't mention Saddam- is it because he doesn't want to draw attention to iraq, is it because he doesn't agree with the verdict, is it because he wants to distance himself from the whitehouse, is it because he regrets the decision that much that he now thinks Saddam was doing a better job??? I don't know Nick- seeing as you know Mr Blair better than all of us- what is your assessment??

Yes Nick

Of Saddam and Tony Blair‘s part in it, the whole trial business, being done in Iraq while Iraq is in such turbulence. And now the death penalty. In law we can see there is retribution and punishment. In my eyes, I see more chaos, as an eye for an eye is played out in the streets of Iraq every single day. Those who seek their power and their place will kill as surely as Saddam has done.

And now we have the spectre of justice, and for who? Whether a man or woman has the anger and hatred to kill one other or a million others, we might ask ourselves where is justice for the dead who have no voice or say in any matter present and future. That the killer is caught and taken out of the game, well what more can we exact. Does death make for justice? I fear it makes more death and nothing is solved.

As allies and insurgents take more life, and make good on promises to what social order, it is hard to say. And as there is little solace in any aggression, the worst is yet to come. Iraq a bloodbath, made good by Western Allies who set out on a picnic, and now confronted with massacre, hard times indeed and conscience will never square these times and history will record a tragedy beyond measure, another holocaust in the making and no end in sight.

Tony Blair being silent speaks volumes as we realise the weight to be born in future years from this whole mess. He might wish for less turbulent times and more on his clarion calls when he first got into office.

He has failed miserably to make good on Iraq, and then putting Saddam to death as well, and all that, what a legacy he is leaving, and what a problem for him as history sticks up a sign which tells of a British Prime Minister, naïve and gullible, sucked along as if he were on a picnic, and then got more than he bargained for, just like in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, except this time its real, and forever.

Wake me up when DC has some policies he hasn't copied from Tony...

  • 4.
  • At 01:46 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Ed Clarke wrote:

It's all a result of his holier-than-thou "Ethical Foreign Policy". Remember that?

  • 5.
  • At 02:22 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • mariondew wrote:

Sorry, those of us with drug dealings in our street are too scared to report them. I am not alone in fearing the indiscretion of the police and the reprisals of the drug dealers eg a brick through the window. A local shop keeper and a publican both got their places smashed up after reporting such activity. And was my smashed car wing just coincidence? NB This is a wealthy residential area in one of our most distinguished University towns which boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the UK.

About time the politicians got real.

  • 6.
  • At 03:02 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Derek Barker wrote:

Come on Nick,stick to the agenda and stop flip flopping,your confusing the issue,what were you thinking ?playing hangman with an unknown I.D. issue and suggesting Cameron and Blair share a real tough love of politics,you really are putting the mix in now, you fox.

  • 7.
  • At 03:28 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

Silence has been a big focus for myself, recently. It’s very easy to jump to conclusions one way or another, and finding the right quality of thoughts and tone can be very, very difficult. Western culture tends towards black and white, and instantaneous decisions. Eastern culture tends towards maybe’s and seeing what emerges. To me, this is just another confirmation that Prime Minister Blair has been deeply influenced by considering his own mistakes, his difficulties during the general election, and his developing new approaches.

I do not presume to know the mind of the Prime Minister, but I experienced a huge difficulty in my own life, ran into a wall where people took as much as they could get and gave back as little as they could get away with, and had a moment of realisation where I saw the world more clearly through the fog of my own perspective. On a personal level, this makes the Prime Ministers difficulties a metaphor for my own life. I remember him saying how he felt people didn’t understand. It seems to go with the territory. Such is the irony of enlightenment.

My take is all stakeholders in the Iraq crisis have their issues. While President Bush and President Hussein made their mistakes, I believe, both have a grain of motivation that suggests they may have acted for the best reasons. Whether some settlement is reached now or later, some consideration of force versus compassion looks useful. Both America and Iraq have their faults and failings, as well as their opportunities and strengths. Deep down in their hearts, I’m sure, both leaders and people realise this. Maybe, it is time for some forgiveness.

  • 8.
  • At 03:44 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • George Dutton wrote:

I think he knew what was coming Nick that in someone was bound to point out that he and Bush had caused the deaths of more people then Saddam.Little wonder then that he said he did not approve of the death penalty.

As for ID cards? the way things are going they are a waste of time and money.The technology to inject a chip into the human body with all the infomation to tell any government who you are and where you are at any given time is just around the corner,that can be scanned from a satellite in orbit.Well they chip dogs Nick and can control the speed of every car in the UK by satellite if they wanted to now.It`s only a matter of time that if you are convicted of a crime this will be done to you.The DNA bank is a good example even if you are not convicted of a crime you can end up on it.

  • 9.
  • At 03:53 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Joe Gowland wrote:

The reason why our Tone is slow on Saddam today is possibily of his embarrassment that only an Independent Iraqi Government/Legal System could deliver the Death Sentence on the eve of the Mid-term elections in USA.Independent my Aunt Fanny. Do Bush/Blair think everyone is an idiot and they the chosen ones.

  • 10.
  • At 04:43 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Anthony Pickles wrote:

Both Bush and Blair have been very reluctant to comment on the conviction of Saddam, but why? They pressed so hard for his capture, and for his trail by Iraqis rather than the Americans. Perhaps their silence is because they are both apprehensive about what the backlash from this could mean for troops in Iraq. We shall see.

  • 11.
  • At 04:57 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Ramsay MacDonald wrote:

Blair's reticence on the Saddam sentence is no surprise. He's suffered enough political damage in recent years by aligning himself too closely with the hang em high White House. Blair may protest that he's sticking to his abolitionist principles, but Margaret Beckett let the cat out of the bag yesterday in her haste to welcome the verdict and outcome of the the trial. The UK, for decades an abolitionist nation, is now officially in favour of the death penalty it seems. This volte-face is victor's justice, throwing out decades of principle for dubious political expediency. The UK Government shouldn't ditch it's principles in this base and undignified way. How credible will our principled stand be the next time a UK citizen faces the gallows in a foreign land?

  • 12.
  • At 05:22 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

Rob, as several of Tony's policies were adopted from Tory policies I don't think that the Tory leader can really be accused of copying them back.

If the Tories or Lib Dems come out with a solid sounding policy Labour will knock it publicly and then adapt it and roll it out 6 months later as "their" idea.

  • 13.
  • At 07:08 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Alice wrote:

Rob McDougall- post 3: wake me up when Labour have some policies that they haven't copied from the Tories...

Tony Blair is evidently stepping back from the lime-light and is trying to focus on issues which are of immediate concern to the nation and to his party. Saddam has taken too much of his time and in a matter of weeks, Saddam could be cast into oblivion once the noose is round his neck. So Tony genuinely wants to concentrate on key national issues and give Labour that final thrust before he leaves office sometime next year. Tony has made some tactical errors on Iraq but on the whole he has always wanted the seeds of true democracy to be sown in Iraq. Whether Iraq is ready for democracy depends on several factors. The mounting insurgency, loss of life and mayhem have all clouded the picture. In the final analysis Iraqis have to take control of their own destiny. The Americans will have to withdraw along with the British from Iraq; the sooner the better. Otherwise America could have the unfortunate experience of Vietnam haunting them.

  • 15.
  • At 08:37 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

The hanging of Saddam could well be the last straw which tips Iraq into full-scale civil war. That's why Blair was tying himself in knots today trying to avoid straight questions about whether he supported it. He is beyond ridiculousness now as a 'leader'. There is also the awkwardness he will feel in saying he is against the death penalty when his Washington mentors want Saddam executed so they can appear stonger and less incompetent.

  • 16.
  • At 08:39 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Liz wrote:

My concern is the appalling bad manners of many journalists present. Compare the Press briefing from Downing Street to the one in Washington. Policy in Washington is questioned by journalists but none of them are rude nor disrespectful. I do think it is time that our journalists were regulated rather than adhere to a voluntary code of conduct. Manmy of those presnet at DowningStreet today demaeaned their profession.

  • 17.
  • At 09:00 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Gary Brooker wrote:

Tony Blair does not care and David Cameron has no backbone to call himself Tory. One is finished and now only has time for his wallet and perks, the other is bying time before someone gives him a good idea,(lower taxes now, end EU meddling of the UK or more police!)
I'm just waiting for the revolution to come,
long live me......

Nick - I think his reaction when questioned on the matter was rather telling. You have it on the BBC media player here hope I got that right, but of course you were there !

He's beginning to lose patience.

  • 19.
  • At 10:08 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • vincefromGlasgow wrote:

We have seen this political ploy of mist and mirrors often enough to see through it.

Its simply the converse of "a good day to bury bad news".

Not for the first time, its a bad day to focus on relevant news - particularly for squirming politicians, who have lost the right to public credibility.

Perception is clearly a function of news management but unrestricted information is a function of truth.

Power is just the key that locks or unlocks the door to truth.

But then, who cares?

Nick, I think this link will explain everything!

If Iraq had ID cards, there would never have been such chaos.

  • 22.
  • At 11:22 AM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Ian Morris wrote:

Has the Prime Minister actually realised that Iraq will not be the legacy he has so desparately been grovelling for?

The irony is, that as much as Blair removed Saddam from office, so Saddam has bought about Bliar's early departure.

  • 23.
  • At 11:54 AM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Isn't the Saddam trial really just a nice piece of theatre, a side-show. All Le Blair came up with is, it reminds everyone what a bad guy Saddam was. I am sure that comes as a great comfort to all those people who find themselves in the midst of a developing civil war.

Still it was nice to hear that we are still on schedule for a state of the art ID system. Only problem with grabbing at state of the art technology is that you tend to get the "state" first, the art comes much later and costs one hell of a lot more.

  • 24.
  • At 12:43 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

No wonder TB is reluctant to talk about Saddam. The British government has, for many years, been opposed to the death penalty. Now they seem to be in favour of it if Margaret Beckett's comments are anything to go by.

They claim that they always oppose the death penalty, but perhaps one question you could ask is what steps have they taken to try to get the Iraqi government not to hang Saddam? I'm sure the answer will be precisely nothing.

Perhaps a more telling question you could ask is whether this apparent volte face on the death penalty just proves that British policy on Iraq is now entirely dictated by George Bush.

  • 25.
  • At 01:08 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Niall wrote:

You hit the nail on the head.

It is dangerous that the government is not consistent about the death penalty. What happens if a British national is on death-row in an another state? Why should they listen to the UK to commute the sentence to life in prison for anyone in the future?

Britain became another bit weaker today.

  • 26.
  • At 03:01 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Dave Jones wrote:

I think people tend to forget that a surprising percentage of the British population still think the death penalty is a sensible thing to have and that Saddam thoroughly deserves it.

Tony just can't say that and maintain a political career.

  • 27.
  • At 06:19 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Al Dermot wrote:

Re 21 - do we have to put up with such pathetic and childish remarks?

Hi Nick,

I thought the PM was treated in an appallingly rude manner by Adam Boulton for reasons which only Mr Boulton can justify. It seems he wanted a scoop from Blair re the death penalty & Blair's v the USA's or Europe's or Iraq's or even Britain's approach. Aim - to create rifts at home and within international affairs, simply heaping more woe on the prime minister's shoulders. You're not that important Adam, though I USED to quite like you as a journalist. But as a MAN? I'm not so sure now. I just wish the PM had been tougher with you, Boulton. There is no excuse for the arrogance of keeping on and on along the one track of questioning until YOUR answer comes out of the prime minister's mouth.

Give our PM a break please. That goes for many of our journos and most of the UK blogging and comment page world today. Their lambasting of Tony Blair knows no limits. Who exactly do they think they are? Judge and jury? Yes, I'm afraid they do. What a job Blair has. I'm surprised he hasn't chucked it all in by now.

While he's still in post, and in desperation more than expectation (who the hell wants Brown?) I'll keep my blog up for a bit yet. It ain't over till it's over.

  • 29.
  • At 08:37 PM on 08 Nov 2006,
  • George Dutton wrote:

"tough on crime tough on the causus of crime"

This is the ultimate betrayal of the people by all the political parties all we keep hearing from the media/politicians is the first part of the above "tough on crime".If we kept going on about bad education,bad housing,poverty level wages,all of which bring about the crime/drug taking and the other forms of sheer misery heaped upon society we would not have to be tough on crime.That is to hard for our politicians to try and tackled much easier to just talk about tough on crime NOT on the causus of crime.This is where the media has let us all down.

  • 30.
  • At 01:03 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Andrew Brown wrote:

Never mind trying and hanging Saddam the man that used American gas to kill people with the full blessing and help of the CIA I want to know when the war criminal Tony Blair will be arrested for murders of over 650,000 innocent people.
The reasons he gave for the invasion of another mans country were lies and the war illegal and to my mind until he is brought to justice the Law of the land in G.B is broken and can not be fixed nor legally applied to anyone anymore.
We have had our law corrupted and just like in Nazi Germany there are no good men that have stood up for what is right.
I am English and I am ashamed to be so.

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