Wednesday 8 October 2003

The great illusionist

by AL Kennedy

He's still there, then, the weary illusionist - hanging above the abusive masses by a thread, deprived of sustenance, hemmed in and exposed to the vulgar gaze with supportive exploitation courtesy of Rupert Murdoch. Who would have thought that our prime minister would come to this.

It's probably cruel to mock a man who's visibly digesting his own substance in a kind of parliamentary Atkins diet; then again, that whole Jesus Christ-plus-10% act is enough to put an agnostic's back up. I mean, it's enough to make David Blaine look like a self-effacing folk hero.

But Blair and Blaine don't have the monopoly on magic - no, enchantment is in the air in more ways than one. Take that wily old performer Jonathan Sumption; the QC who represented the government at the Hutton inquiry was seen practising classic misdirection with his vaudeville hair and that weird, breakdancing twitch - all in hope of making any number of awkward facts just disappear from Hutton's view.

I particularly liked the flimflam act he used to suggest that the allegations against Blair and his government were so serious that, on principle and independent of any evidence, they must never be mentioned again. I'd love to hear him defending more average murderers: "Your honour, murder is a dreadful crime. So dreadful that no one should ever be accused of it. I therefore demand an immediate dismissal and lavish compensation for my client. And next - sawing an affidavit in half." Houdini must have turned in his grave.

Still, the Brits are amateurs when it comes to prestidigitation - for the finest work, you need the Pentagon and its military order. They excel at the kind of manipulation that means you'll never find the lady - or any other relative who's been classified as a threat. Are they in Kandahar, Bagram, Guantanamo Bay? Have they been transferred to an ally nation with, um, specialist interrogation skills? Into the legal black hole, unless you know the magic words: "I am a Caucasian US citizen and admit my guilt."

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