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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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.