The phone call was quintessential Whitehall. Would I, Lord Butler's man inquired, care to clarify one or two points raised in my book? A few days later, as I presented myself at the reception desk of the Cabinet Office, a lady was waiting to whisk me straight in.
We had agreed earlier that no attempt would be made to wheedle out sources, but I suggested I might none the less be able to provide some context. Call it a vague notion of public interest. Call it curiosity. For nearly an hour I was asked to substantiate a number of points in Blair's Wars, particularly the assertion that Blair "had his doubts" about the intelligence throughout. What evidence did I have for that, and how could I therefore account for the PM's many public claims that he had "no doubts" Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction?
The questioning was polite, but probing. Butler and his band of the great and the good had prepared thoroughly for the meeting, pointing me to relevant passages from the book with alarming speed. The session had none of the showmanship of the Hutton inquiry last August, with its combative barristers, which had lulled us into a false sense of expectation. Away from the public glare, Butler suggested discreetly that it came down to whether Blair had told the truth. I suggested that Blair did not necessarily know the intelligence to be wrong, but he willed it to be right. At no point did he know it to be right.