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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Analysis: Confessional tone
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It is hard to think of a forum less like a confessional than the Commons liaison committee.

Tony Blair
Prime minister faced questions on Iraq
No privacy and very little in the way of absolution is on offer here.

Yet it was in front of this panel of senior MPs that Tony Blair confessed he now accepted that Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction might never be found.

And that the deposed Iraqi dictator might actually have destroyed those weapons before the war - presumably just as he told the UN he had done all along.

It appeared to be just another of the small steps the prime minister has been making over the past 12 months to "clarify" just why he took Britain to war.

It was, as he told the committee, to enforce UN resolutions which the UN was not prepared to enforce itself.

Silly extremes

Step forward father confessor, in the even less likely figure of Tory Edward Leigh, who has made a name for himself in using these six-monthly occasions to torment the prime minister over Iraq.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam may have destroyed his weapons
"So," he asked the prime minister in the most reasonable of terms, "Can not you find it in yourself to accept that we went to war for the wrong reasons and say you are sorry for that?"

Of course not. That would be taking the whole confessional thing to silly extremes.

Thanking Mr Leigh for putting his question so reasonably, the prime minister went on to say that he remained convinced Saddam Hussein had been a threat in terms of WMD.

An exasperated tormentor sighed and admitted he wasn't going to get anywhere with that line of inquiry even though - and this brought a smile to the PM's face - "the whole world accepts WMD were not there."

He was a touch less restrained later when pressing the prime minister to detail precisely what he had got from his relationship with President Bush.

Domestic issues

Mr Leigh's normally rosy glow became an angry fire as Mr Blair suggested the idea he was looking for scraps in return for supporting the US was "pathetic."

And apart from that, it was pretty much business as normal with a series of questions largely on just the sort of domestic issues the prime minister has been eager to get back at the top of the agenda.

A large slice of the two-and-a-half hour grilling was about precisely what the prime minister meant by "choice", how he was going to boost social cohesion and whether he was about to bring back nuclear power.

On the last one, by the way, there appeared to be the vaguest of hints that this widely-feared technology may be creeping back into ministerial favour.

Once again, it was a shirt-sleeved, first-names-terms and relaxed performance by the prime minister who gives the impression he uses these examinations as the intellectual equivalent of his daily physical workouts.

He tries not to overdo it, likes to break an invigorating sweat without exhausting himself, and almost always feels much better, and certainly more virtuous, afterwards.

Although it is probably too much to suggest in this context that confession is good for the soul.

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