Comment: Tony Blair, Iraq and Alastair Campbell's Diary

Tony Blair's been in the news a lot recently thanks to his second appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the handling of the Iraq War.

There's been various news stories suggesting (again) that Blair had made up his mind to go to war long before the government 'officially' decided to go to war. He also stands accused (again) of running an almost presidential style of government, and not properly consulting his cabinet.

I've recently been reading The Blair Years - Extracts from The Alastair Campbell Diaries, published in 2007.

What does Mr Blair's long-time spin doctor and loyal supporter have to say about it all?

Strangely, his book pretty much confirms it all, though admittedly it's somewhat open to interpretation - he certainly never explicitly says Blair made up his mind about Iraq beforehand (it would be strange if he did, all things considered), though he's fairly clear that Blair called the shots and cabinet consultation was very limited.

On the latter point, Campbell tends to look at everything through a prism of what is "professional", and presents a very black-and-white view of either working for the good of the party, staying "on-message" and toeing the line, or working against it. Cabinet members who spoke out, or spoke their mind, are regularly described in very derogatory terms, and Blair is said to have spoken in much the same way. Many of the female cabinet members in particular are derided for their lack of what Blair and Campbell see as 'professionalism', and even the popular Redcar MP Mo Mowlam is blasted, and her importance in the Northern Ireland negotiations is talked down compared to her own, more detailed description of events in her book, Momentum.

Campbell's description of the final cabinet meeting to discuss Iraq essentially describes the cabinet being railroaded into agreeing what had already been decided.

On Iraq, Campbell paints an interesting picture. He describes Blair's reaction to the 9/11 disaster as immediately recognising that Bush will feel forced to retaliate against someone - anyone - in order to be seen to be doing something in the eyes of his Republican supporters. Campbell suggests Blair as being concerned with intervening and trying to steer the President to the least worst paths and outcomes, and Britain's involvement flowed from this way of looking at the situation.

"Charles Clarke told him later that there were real anxieties around about Bush and that people around the world saw TB as the only person who could restrain him. He said it was an awesome responsibility."

It could be argued that Campbell subtly plays to the image of George W Bush as being naive and headstrong, and lacking in the subtlety needed for dealing with European politics and the UN. In the run-up to the Iraq War, Campbell describes Blair writing detailed briefing papers for the President, and Bush going through them point-by-point when they meet.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Bush tended to play up his naivety and stressed that he relied on the advice of the people around him. Blair's image tends towards the opposite of this.

The US government won the support of our armed forces for the Iraq invasion, eventually resulting in the removal and execution of Saddam Hussein, the installation of a new government who might be described as being more sympathetic to the US, and the awarding of reconstruction contracts to US companies.

The benefit to our country is less well defined.