Thursday 18 June 2009

Cracking the Iraq inquiry open

The case for opening up the Iraq inquiry has been made from all quarters. It has been particularly good to see the army and security top brass falling in behind Next Left on this one!

Gordon Brown's letter to John Chilcot is therefore welcome in at least reopening the possibility that a good deal of the process may take place in public.

A good deal can be made of u-turns and climbdowns - but it would be strange for those who called for the government to rethink on Monday to now decry it for doing so.

The letter also acknowledges the legitimate call from opposition parties and select committees for input into the process, and responds to a number of other specific points - about evidence being taken under oath, and the role of the families of soldiers - which were made in the Commons on Monday. And they say nobody ever listens to Parliament.

Ed Balls has been criticised - including by Alastair Campbell - for expressing the common sense view that the inquiry should be as open as possible, instead of giving 100% support on a contentious issue.

But this seemed to me a legitimate intervention, and potentially a rather useful one given a realistic opportunity of reopening the question. A rapid change will help the government minimise the damage that a private inquiry could have caused. I imagine that Campbell is more often critical of the tendency to discuss every political intervention as if the only motivation can be personal positioning, rather than occasionally also having at least something to do with the merits of the issue under discussion.

An aside: Given Balls' seniority, it is often forgotten that he entered Parliament only at the 2005 General Election, and so did not participate in the 2003 Commons vote on the war. (Gordon Brown had of course voted with the government, but was strikingly reticent about ever discussing the issue in public).

I remember that Balls was asked about the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war as a panellist in the Question Time session at the Fabian New Year Conference in January 2005, at which I was also speaking.

His view was that there had been a strong case for giving Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors more time in 2003.

Given how neuralgic the issue of Iraq had become for the government, I was slightly surprised that Balls had not ducked the question. He told me that he had said the same when standing as a candidate in Normanton.

Still, very few people seemed to pick this up at the time, though there were several hundred people there. (But then 2005 was back in the pre-blogging dark ages!). Looking it up, I see that Balls' comments on Brown's willingness to campaign for the euro at the same event were more newsworthy for the media.

This was still a couple of years before government Ministers first seemed willing to acknowledge in public that there was a need to learn lessons from the mistakes made in Iraq - also at the Fabian conference, this time in 2007.

Which is, of course, why as public an inquiry process as possible is still needed now.

1 comment:

Robert said...

But Gordon should have done this knowing of the backlash, now it looks more and more like this poor quality leader has done a Uturn, does nobody in Downing street know about getting it in first.

The inquiry will not be secret it will be open we are a government of the people,. nope what we get is weasel words about secrets.

This has to be a government with advisor's from bloody play school