Blair on Iraq: "Happy to go through it all again"

I'm ready to face inquiry, says Blair

Tony Blair has emerged on CNN to make his first public comments on the Iraq inquiry since it opened last week.

He insists he's ready to face scrutiny:

I've been through these issues many, many times over the past few years and I'm very happy to go through them again.

To which we can only reply: "So are we, Tony, so are we."

Unsurprisingly, Blair denies the Mail on Sunday's exclusive report that Lord Goldsmith wrote to him in July 2002 warning that removing Saddam Hussein from power would be illegal.

He also insists that he does not feel "betrayed" by the former US ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, who told the inquiry that Blair's position on regime change "tightened" after the 2002 meeting at Bush's Crawford ranch.

Blair ends, amusingly, by misquoting President Truman:

I think it was one of your presidents that once said, "If you can't stand the heat don't come into the kitchen", and that's my view of politics.

If Chilcot does his job (and I remain he confident he will), Blair will be wishing by the end that he was out of the kitchen.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.