Byline: Paul ROUTLEDGE
IN the end, and this probably is the end, derision is more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction.
When the survival of the nation is threatened, Britons support their leaders. When a government is in chaos, people blame politicians.
In years to come, I suspect that the last few days will be seen as a watershed in the Blair era - a week in which sleaze met incompetence and fathered contempt.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, oblivious to the fury that her patronising style generates, is jeered off the stage by angry NHS nurses.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke is forced to apologise for letting loose a thousand convicted foreign criminals who should be up for deportation. And the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is the butt of every public bar gossip in the land over his affair with sexy secretary Tracey Temple.
Governments can live down the occasional scandal, and Lord knows there have been enough of them under Tony Blair. But this administration is now a laughing stock.
The Prime Minister is fond of repeating his determination to set a "respect" agenda. How can he do that if the people have no respect for him and his ministers?
Comparisons are being drawn with the dying days of John Major's time in office. Tempting, but wrong. Then, people were heartily sick and tired of ALL the Tories, and wanted to see the back of the lot of them. …