Tokyo, July 20: The look in the Prime Minister’s eyes told it all yesterday as he was questioned at a press conference in Japan about the death of Dr David Kelly.
In the six years that he has been in office, I have not seen him look so shattered. Standing alongside the youthful-looking 61-year-old Japanese Prime Minister, Blair, 50, appeared haggard. There were deep circles under the eyes, and, during hostile questioning from British journalists, he appeared close to tears.
Whether it was out of fatigue or frustration, Blair was looking like a man who did not know to handle the crisis engulfing him.
A deeply religious man, he could find no easy answer to the charge that the government is responsible in some part for Dr Kelly’s death. There was nothing that he could do to stop the tragedy overshadowing his Far East tour.
Time and again, a faltering Blair was forced to return to his weary stock answer to questions of responsibility: “There is going to be a full and independent inquiry. We should make our judgment after we get the facts. In the meantime we should show respect and restraint”.
It did not deter his questioners, however.
As the press conference ended, a shout hung in the air: “Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister' Are you going to resign'”
Blair’s problems reminded me of another visit I went on to Japan with another Prime Minister in crisis — in 1993, when John Major spoke of the “flapping of white coats” in frustration at the “bastards” rebelling against his policy on Europe.
Like Blair now, Major then had to field questions about when he was going to resign.
Major lost the confidence of the country after losing control of his party.
Blair is not at that stage: when he does stand down, however, the beginning of the end is likely to be timed from this weekend in Japan.
He has survived many crises, but the current one comes after his most serious summer of discontent since he came to power.
In recent weeks he has seen his majority slashed in the revolt over foundation hospitals and his plans to restrict trial by jury blocked in the House of Lords.
The death of Dr Kelly has cast a pall over his attempts to shrug off the domestic difficulties. Suddenly Blair is looking like a Prime Minister who has run out of luck — the most valuable of all political assets.