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Seems To Be The Hardest Word

To do the decent thing used to be the hallmark of an Englishman.

We invented that most gentlemanly competitive sport - cricket. We have a proud tradition of playing fair on the pitch and in life. Modest, honest, ready to admit mistakes.

That is the way we were. When last year we went to war alongside you in Iraq, we did so because we believed we were fighting a threat to the civilised world – a tyrant with truly dangerous weapons at his disposal. That's what our leaders told us. They were wrong.

The intelligence upon which America and Britain relied was badly compiled, unreliably sourced and desperately flawed. In your country official inquiries pointed the finger of blame at the intelligence community, and heads rolled. In our country, by stark contrast, nothing much happened at all. We have just had a very high-powered official inquiry.

Chaired by a very clever retired civil servant, Lord Butler of Brockwell no less. His report was released a few days ago. All one hundred and ninety six pages of it. A fascinating read. How flimsy rumours became hard facts about weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the blame is aimed at the security chief who advised our Prime Minister. But the report specifically says what a jolly good chap he is and what a tragedy it would be if he quit. So, surprise, surprise, he hasn't.

Some of the blame is aimed at Tony Blair himself. But there is no suggestion that he should go either. And he hasn't. You see, Lord Butler says it was everybody's fault – and therefore nobody's. And a cunning new phrase has entered the lexicon of British excuses.

It has been used by Mr Blair and others: "I acted in good faith". Back in the 'doing the decent thing' days, such a phrase would have been totally unacceptable. Because to act in good faith and get it wrong still means you got it wrong. But in today's Britain, politics is never having to say you're sorry.

By Ed Boyle