Those who could see him in person thought he looked frightened. Beads of sweat on his upper lip, which themselves looked bluish. His hands shook as he poured himself a glass of water. Outside the hall demonstrators from the Socialist Workers Party were calling him B-LIAR and accusing him of murdering hundreds of thousands. Inside and behind him sat the fathers and mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq.
His interlocutors were gentlemanly, well spoken and thoughtful and he was soon in his stride. We saw what we had been missing for the past three years. Tony Blair brought back his polite sincerity, his articulateness, his self-confidence, his ability to perform center-stage. What a contrast with Gordon Brown and even with BO.
Analyze what he said and you may pick holes in it, but his performance was masterly.
Here is my assessment of his arguments.
Did he conduct an illegal war?
Difficult to decide; what constitutes a legal war? The multilateral force that expelled Iraq from Kuwait was widely seen as a legal war; sovereign territory had been invaded by a dictator with an appalling human rights record. But the human rights record of the Kuwaitis was not exemplary and the very existence of the state of Kuwait was a consequence of artificial borders drawn up by a waning imperial state with oil on its mind. The restoration of the status quo ante perhaps owed more to the worry about letting even more oil fall into the hands of a more unpleasant regime.
But if that war was held to be legal then the peace that followed was only a conditional peace based on Saddam's agreement and compliance with many restrictions. These included no-fly zones in the north and south, a willingness to forgo weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, abandonment of the WMD programme and compliance with inspectors to verify this and sanctions to prevent the acquisition of material to rebuild MWD.
Saddam was never compliant with these sanctions, indeed an industry had developed in circumventing them, which was extremely profitable for certain industries in France, Germany and Russia. Nevertheless the United Nations passed yet another resolution, 1441, which gave him one last chance to comply immediately and completely.
Saddam did not comply. Everybody believed he still had weapons of mass destruction. Indeed even when the war discovered that he had no such weapons, the post war Iraq enquiry found that he had both the blueprints for and intention of building such weapons once the shackles were off.
Many people in this country thought that yet another UN resolution was necessary to take up arms again. I was not one of them. For me the correct procedure would have been to march to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf War. I only reluctantly accepted the policy of containment then. I felt that had Mrs Thatcher not fallen then Bush 1 would have had his arm twisted to finish Saddam there and then. I think history has proved me right. In fact, another UN resolution was not forthcoming; it was opposed by those nations making money out of sanctions busting.
The legality of wars is decided by the victors, by and large. Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone could all be considered illegal by some criteria. Two of these were to defend Muslims against Christians.
The second question was why Iraq; why 2003?
There were plenty of other dictators to take down, and Saddam had been strutting his defiance for more than 10 years. Blair's reason was that 9/11 changed thinking. Suddenly there were terrorists with no demands; just a desire to kill as many 'infidels' as they could. 3000 in New York could be 300,000 if they could get hold of a nuclear device. Where could they get one? Iran, North Korea, Libya, Iraq - all countries with a weapons program and led by dangerous men. Containing Saddam seemed not to be an option to be comfortable with any more. Zimababwe might be just as evil, but not such a threat. Just imagine Iraq in 2010 with Saddam still in power and a Carter-like figure leading the Western World.
Was the whole story presented in a fair way to the British electorate?
Many say not. With the benefit of hindsight, there being no WMD, one might think so. Perhaps the document encouraging us to war had been 'sexed up'. I must say, that I did not find the 45 minute warning prominent when I read it, though the media seized on it. I presumed it referred to battlefield weapons and was concerned at the prospect of our soldiers having to where chemical protection suits in that heat. In fact it was unnecessary. Saddam's pomp was all show. But then, I was not one of those who needed convincing.
What about the aftermath? Surely the planning was deficient.
Blair's defence was that they never anticipated that AQ and Iran would exploit the war with infiltration afterwards. If that is so, someone was being extremely naive. The failure in my mind was not in going to war nor in the way the war was conducted, but in the preparation for the peace afterwards.
Most of the deaths occurred afterwards. Prime responsibility lies with the fundamentalist Muslims of AQ and mad Mullahs of Iran, but Bush and Blair cannot escape responsibility for poor planning of the post war circumstances.
The Chilcot enquiry did not lay a glove on Blair, but in my view he was not held sufficiently accountable for the aftermath of the war.