Charm offensive. An intimate account of the run-up to the war in Iraq reveals the cynicism at the heart of No 10, writes Clare Short

30 Days: a month at the heart of Blair's war

Peter Stothard <em>HarperCollins, 244pp, £8.99</em>

This is a clever book. It describes 30 days of close access to Tony Blair's inner group during the Iraq conflict. The fact of its commissioning demonstrates how well Blair and his entourage thought they would come out of the war. They even briefed the press that Gordon Brown would be forced out of the Treasury so that Blair, strengthened by war, could deliver his other historic goal: membership of the euro.

I strongly recommend 30 Days to those interested in Iraq, the British constitution and new Labour. It contains more information than at first appears. Alastair Campbell will probably like it, as it shows his powerful central position. But it also shows - within its limits - how badly our constitutional system is working and the cynicism at the heart of No 10.

Peter Stothard's book confirms my view that Blair committed the UK long ago - perhaps before June 2002 - to go to war in Iraq in support of the United States. He favoured a route through the United Nations, but committed us anyway and therefore lost any serious leverage with the US government.

We get glimpses of Blair's muddle. "It is all very well being a pacifist . . . but to be a pacifist after 11 September, that's something different. It's all new now: terrible threat, terrorist weapons, terrorist states. That is what people have to understand." We must conclude that Blair thinks 11 September made Saddam Hussein more dangerous.

The only bit of serious policy we get is Blair's "strategic fear of the isolation of the United States if it 'goes it alone'". We are told that, in September 2002, Blair's analysis of relations between Washington, London and Baghdad rested on six essential principles to which Blair and his aides would regularly return:

Saddam Hussein's past aggres-sion and present support for terrorism made him a clear threat;

1. the US and Britain were among his enemies;
2. the people of the US post- 11 September would support a war on Iraq;
3. the war would happen whatever any other country did;
4. the people of Britain and the rest of the world would want action through the UN;
5. it would be more damaging to international peace and security if the US acted alone.

The logic of these points is clear. They are hardly profound, but they explain why we went to war. It boils down to the view that the US would inevitably go to war in Iraq and, for some unexplained reasons, it was considered dangerous for America to go it alone; therefore the UN route should be tried, but we would go with the US whatever. The rest of the book focuses on Blair's presentation - his constant use of make-up, and the power and dominance of Campbell.

Peter Stothard's account makes clear the cynicism and contempt that the inner team has for most other groupings in the political system. There is the cabinet, during whose meetings "a messenger sits guard to ensure that none of the team outside, the people who really run this heart of government [my emphasis], makes too much noise". There is the Parliamentary Labour Party, whose members are pressed and charmed and persuaded to vote with the government on 18 March, and who are sneeringly dismissed as "the people who see themselves as leaders of the country". There is Jack Jones, at whose 90th birthday party Blair says: "You owned this place once . . . Yes, you owned this place once. It's not quite like that now. But it's very good to see you here." And then there's the Labour Party's National Executive Committee: "barons who have been cleverly deprived of their power, but to whom ritual respect must be paid".

Campbell is seen to be constantly in control. An article by Bill Clinton printed by the Guardian apparently left out his direct appeal to Labour MPs to vote in favour of the war. Campbell insisted that someone should "get on to the Guardian and protest". We get a glimpse of his mastery of the news that is fed to us. "Then he calls the top television political editors . . . 'Adam, you might like to know that' . . . 'Andrew, yes there are some resignations but' . . . 'Nick, yes, yes, he's definitely gone but, well, he's not exactly the' . . . Then he hears his own words played back to him . . . This is true interactive television."

We are once again served up the completely dishonest melodrama of a likely Blair resignation over the vote in the House of Commons. Given that the Conservative Party was voting with the government, in reality the vote was unlosable. The real issue was the size of the Labour revolt and therefore the humiliation of Blair. But in order to try to cast themselves in heroic mode, Blair, Jack Straw and Tessa Jowell have earnestly told us that they were planning to resign. Stothard swallows this canard. He is smarter on other pretences.

But perhaps the most cynical attitude of all involves the UN role in post-conflict Iraq. On 25 March, Sally Morgan says: "Yes, we want more Kofi. We seriously have to Kofi now." We are told that Labour MPs like "a Kofi plan". "We'd better Kofi this" means we had better obscure this bit of military planning with a good coat of humanitarian waffle. "Let's speak Kofi is what the mood in London demands."

And thus Blair was fixated on the UN role in post-conflict Iraq in his meetings with George Bush - in the Azores, when we got the "UN leg" at Camp David on 27 March, and at Hillsborough on 6 April when this became "the vital role for the UN". And then he was satisfied. He needed the soundbite, but was not concerned with the content. And thus he ignored the Attorney-General's advice on the legalities of coalition action in post-conflict Iraq. The Attorney-General recommended a Memorandum of Understanding so that British staff would be protected, but the US refused and Blair simply accepted a Pentagon lead through the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, with the results we see in Iraq today.

I stayed in the government because the war was unstoppable and the Prime Minister promised international co-operation and a central UN role to support the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country. Blair probably does not even know that he gave me firm assurances that he later completely breached. He uses his charm to get what he wants. He is a media star. He thinks in soundbites. This is the book of the film. It is also the government of our country.

Clare Short is MP for Birmingham Ladywood