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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
So will Iraq be Blair's epitaph?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Tony Blair's days as prime minister are virtually over - just 10 to go - and one of his old Conservative tormentors was there at the end to chisel a single word on his political tombstone.

Iraqi police with bombed out car
Iraq has hung over Mr Blair since 2003
As Mr Blair made his final appearance before the Commons' liaison committee, he did his best to correct a whole series of negatives that have attached themselves to his reign.

On everything from spin, sofa government, education, the constitution and Europe he set out to put right the wrong impressions he believes some people have of things he had, or had not done.

He had not run sofa-style government and sidelined Cabinet, he had not downgraded Parliament, made policy in response to headlines or slavishly followed President Bush.

Neither, by the way, was he about to hand over huge new powers to Brussels as his final act in Downing Street.

The right thing

What he had always done - and this is what it may all boil down to in the end, he once again suggested - was what he believed was the right thing.

Tony Blair at the liaison committee
Mr Blair defended his interventionist policy
Particularly, he had done the right thing in four international interventions including Afghanistan and Iraq.

And there was that single word that has hung over everything Mr Blair has done or tried to do since 2003.

It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Tory MP Edward Leigh who gave the most brutal assessment of exactly what Iraq had meant for the prime minister who, he confessed, had been "brilliant" in some areas of his leadership.

Only that one word would be written on Tony Blair's political tombstone, and the prime minister was in denial about it, he suggested.

Did he never allow a smidgeon of doubt to cross his mind that it may have been a mistake, was he ever haunted by the dead or was he too full of self belief to allow any of that, asked Mr Leigh.

Western values

Clearly stung, the prime minister said, of course he felt the weight of the responsibility, he was a human being. But he had done what he believed was the right thing.

Tony Blair before the liaison committee
This was Mr Blair's final appearance
Then he delivered what has been his default defence of that war.

It is rubbish to suggest the ordinary Arab did not want the democracy they had been given.

"Of course they want it. What country has ever chosen not to be a democracy, it's just nonsense, it's what oppressive people do to justify their oppression, they say democracy and freedom are western values. It's just rubbish, they're universal values of the human spirit and they always will be," he said.

The prime minister said he was not in a position to decide what was written on his own tombstone.

That defence, however, probably offers an insight into the core sentiments that Labour's most electorally successful prime minister really wants on his political tombstone.

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