Why I have no faith in the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq

Five reasons to be cynical

1) Chilcot himself. Is this "establishment" man really going to get to the bottom of how we ended up in Iraq? Can someone who acted as a "staff counsellor" to MI6 between 1999 to 2004 be a credible investigator of the flawed intelligence produced on Iraqi WMDs, by MI6, between 2002 and 2003? Will an ex-permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office be able to challenge ministers or his former colleagues in the civil service?

Sir John Chilcot also happens to be a former member of the 2004 Butler inquiry into Iraq intelligence, which failed to land any significant blows. Here is how Philippe Sands, QC describes Chilcot after watching him closely during the Butler inquiry: "Having some familiarity with Sir John's questioning . . . it is not immediately apparent that he will have the backbone to take on former government ministers."

Sands has also referred to the occasion when the Butler committee took evidence from the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith on 5 May 2004:

The uncorrected transcript shows some members of the inquiry pressing him hard. By contrast, Sir John's spoon-fed questions give every impression of being designed to elicit a response from the attorney general that would demonstrate the reasonableness of his actions and those of the government.

2) Recent history. Do you remember the last time an "independent" inquiry revealed the whole "truth" about this or that government misdemeanour or cover-up? Critics of the war had high hopes for every single one of the four previous Iraq inquiries (Hutton, Butler, ISC, FASC) -- and each time their hopes were dashed.

Twas ever thus. As James Callaghan put it after the Franks report of 1983 effectively exonerated Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands:

For 338 paragraphs he painted a splendid picture, delineated the light and the shade, and the glowing colours in it, and when Franks got to paragraph 339 he got fed up with the canvas he was painting, and chucked a bucket of whitewash over it.

3) The composition of the committee. How can you have faith in Sir Roderic Lyne, another establishment man, former senior civil servant and British ambassador to (anti-war) Russia during the Iraq war? As the Labour MP Lynne Jones pointed out in the Commons in June:

He [Lyne] was a special adviser to BP, which currently has major interests in Iraq. Regardless of whether that represents a conflict of interests, it does not help public confidence given the concern that we went to war for oil.

And, as my colleague George has pointed out, "the fact that the inquiry's members include Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the architects of the doctrine of 'liberal interventionism', and Sir Martin Gilbert, who once declared that Bush and Blair could 'join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill', does not inspire confidence." Indeed.

4) The media. Journalists, especially lobby correspondents, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been too quick to swallow the government line on Iraq, have "moved on" at the first sign of "Iraq fatigue" by their readers or viewers, and much prefer to discuss who is up and who is down in the Westminster village or inside the Beltway than to discuss Iraqi politics, intelligence issues or the effects of western foreign policy in the Middle East.

Take Peter Ricketts, former JIC chair and ex-political director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ricketts is testifying this morning in front of the Chilcot inquiry. But how many journalists have reported on the leaked "confidential and personal" memo that Ricketts sent to his then boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in March 2002?

In it, Ricketts wrote that "by sharing Bush's broad objective the Prime Minister can help shape how [Iraq policy] is defined" and conceded that "what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes . . . even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts". Here it is, in all its glory, on the excellent Downing Street Memo(s) website.

5) Teflon Tony. The truth about Iraq -- the lies, cover-ups, war crimes, torture, etc -- has never seemed to stick to Tony Blair. Had the British government got its way last week, and the Germans caved, Blair would be enjoying his first full week as president of Europe at the same time as the Iraq inquiry kicked off. It would have been, to borrow a phrase from Bliar himself, "palpably absurd".

Oh, and by now, you will have worked out that I disagree with George on Chilcot and am happy, for once, to include myself in the "green ink brigade" to which he refers. I hope to be proved wrong. But, given these five things, I doubt it.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our economic model

Our industrial strategy must lift communities out of low-wage stagnation, writes the chair of the Prime Minister's policy board. 

With the long term fallout of the great crash of 2008 becoming clearer the issue of "inclusive growth" has never been more urgent.

Eight years after the Great Crash, it is becoming clear that the long term impacts of the crisis profoundly challenges the model of economy - and politics - we have become used to. Asset inflation and technological revolutions are entrenching untold wealth for a small global elite.

This sits alongside falling relative disposable incomes for the many, and increasing difference in the disposable income of different generations. Meanwhile, a cohort of "just-about-managing" citizens are working harder than ever simply to get by, despite falling rates of savings. All of this – along with a persistent structural deficit in pensions, welfare and health budgets - combines to create an urgent need for new economic thinking about a model of growth and 21st century economic citizenship that works better for all people and places in our country.

The main political parties have set out to tackle these challenges and develop policy programmes for them. Theresa May has set out a bold new Conservative agenda of reforms to help those of our fellow citizens who are working hard but struggling to get by: to build an economy that works for everyone, and for the people and places left behind.

But this challenge is also generational, and will need thinkers from all parties - and none - to talk and think together about fresh approaches. This is why this cross-party initiative on inclusive growth is a welcome contribution to the policy debate.

The Prime Minister leads a government committed not just to deliver Brexit, but also to the fresh thinking and fresh solutions to the scale of the domestic challenges we face, which clearly contributed to the scale of the Leave vote last June. As she has said, it's clear that as well as rejecting the EU, voters were rejecting a model of growth that wasn’t working for them.

The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was one of the most dramatic and significant political events in decades – for this country and potentially for Europe. It changes everything: our economic model, our long term economic prospects, the assumptions and mechanisms through which we run most of our government and the diplomatic and economic status of the UK internationally.

Delivering a successful Brexit – one which strengthens our global security, our united kingdom, our economy and popular trust in parliamentary democracy, and a model of political economy that works to these ends, will dominate this political generation.

This is a challenge. But it is also an unprecedented opportunity to reform our model of political economy to tackle the causes of deepening domestic political disillusionment and put our country on the path to long-term recovery. 

Brexit provides us with a unique chance to address two of the most important public policy challenges facing our country.

First, the need to enable and enhance the conditions for creating and developing greater enterprise and innovation across our economy, in order to increase competitiveness and productivity. Second, the need to tackle the growing alienation of so many people and places from the opportunities of globalisation, which has in turn entrenched attitudes towards welfarism. I believe these two challenges are fundamentally linked. 

Without social mobility, and the removal of the barriers holding back national and regional participation enterprise, we will never be able to tackle the structural challenges of productivity, public service modernisation, competitiveness and innovation. 

It's becoming clearer to more and more people that a 21st century "innovation economy" both requires and drives an "opportunity society". You can't have an enterprising economy with low rates of social mobility. And the entrepreneurial spirit of economic aspiration is the fuel that powers the engine of social mobility.

For too long, we have run an economic model based on generating growing tax revenues from an ever smaller global elite, in order to pay for the welfare costs of a workforce increasingly dependent on handouts.

Whitehall has tended to treat social policy quite separately from economic policy. This siloed thinking – the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for "growth" and the Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Department for Education for "public services" - compounds a lack of the kind of integrated policymaking needed to tackle the socio-economic causes of low productivity. The challenges holding back the people and places we need to help do not fall neatly into Whitehall silos. 

Since 1997, successive governments have pursued a model of growth based on a booming service sector, high levels of low-cost migrant labour and housing and asset inflation. At the same time, policymakers tried to put in place framework to support long term industrial renaissance and rebalancing. The EU referendum demonstrated that this model of growth was not working for enough people. 

Our industrial strategy must be as much about lifting communities out of low-skill and low-wage stagnation as it is about driving pockets of new activity. We need Cambridge to continue to grow, but we also need to ensure that communities from Cromer to Carlisle and Caithness, which do not enjoy the benefits of being a global technology cluster, can participate too. That means new measures to spread opportunities more widely. 

The Great Crash and its aftermath - including Brexit - represents a chance for a new generation to think these problems through and tackle them. We all have a part to play. Six years ago, I set up the 2020 Conservatives Group in Parliament, as a forum for a new generation of progressive Conservative MPs, regardless of increasingly old-fashioned labels of "left" or "right", or where they stood on the Europe debate. This is a forum to discuss new ways to tackle the current problems facing our country, beyond the conventional silos of Whitehall. Drawing on previous career experiences outside of Parliament, the group also looks ahead strategically at the potential longer-term social and economic challenges that may confront us in the future.

I believe that technology, and a new zeitgeist for public sector (as well as private sector) enterprise hold the key to resolving the barriers that are currently holding back the development of new opportunities. With new approaches, better infrastructure and skills connecting opportunities with the people and places left behind, better incentives for our great innovators, and new models of mutualised public/private partnerships and ventures, we can build an economy that genuinely works for everyone.

The government has already set about making this happen. Through the industrial strategy, the £23bn package of investment in new infrastructure and innovation announced by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, we can now be much bolder in developing a 21st century knowledge economy infrastructure that will be the foundation for economic success. 

The success of inclusive growth rests on a number of core foundations - that our economy grows, that social inequality is redressed; that people are given the skills they need to pursue a career in the new economy and that we better spread the opportunities of the global economy hitherto enjoyed by a segment of our workforce to the many. 

This can only be achieved if we recognise the way in which enterprise and opportunity are interdependent. Together, politicians from all parties have a chance to set out a new path for a Global Britain: making our country the world capital of innovation and opportunity. Not trickle-down economics, but "innovation economics" where the private and public sector commit to a programme of supporting each other for mutual benefit.

An economy that works for everyone is an economy in which the country unites around the twin pillars of opportunity and security, which are open to all. A country in which "shared values" are as important as "shareholder value". And in which both are better shared by all. A country once again with that precious alignment of economic and social purpose which is the hallmark of all great civilisations. It's a great prize.

This is an edited version of George Freeman's article for All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth's new "State of the Debate" report, available to download here.The APPG on Inclusive Growth's "State of the Debate" event with the OECD, World Economic Forum, RSA and IPPR is on Tuesday 21st February at 6.30pm at Parliament. See www.inclusivegrowth.co.uk for full details. 

George Freeman is the MP for Mid-Norfolk and the chair of the Prime Minister's Policy Board.