Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on March 21, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Iraq inquiry is an opportunity for Miliband

He must use its publication to remind voters of how he has learned from the mistakes of New Labour. 

The agreement reached between the government and the Iraq inquiry over the inclusion of details of Tony Blair's conversations with George Bush should clear the way for its publication before the end of the year. Negotiations will now begin on exactly which "gists and quotes" can be released from the 25 notes and 130 records of discussions between the two leaders.

Here's the statement from the inquiry website: 

On 28 May 2014 Sir John Chilcot wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to record his pleasure that agreement had been reached on the principles that will underpin disclosure of material from Cabinet-level discussions and communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States.  These documents have raised difficult issues of long-standing principle.

Agreement had already been reached on the details of what the Inquiry will publish in relation to more than 200 Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings. 

Detailed consideration of gists and quotes requested by the Inquiry from communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States has now begun.  It is not yet clear how long that will take but the Inquiry and the Government should work to complete the task as soon as possible.

Once agreement has been reached, the next phase of the Maxwellisation process can begin.  That process must be completed before the Inquiry's report can be finalised and sent to the Prime Minister

The Inquiry intends to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible. 

The inquiry has long been viewed as a "minefield" for Labour ahead of the general election as old wounds over the war are reopened (a significant number of the shadow cabinet voted in favour of it). But it is also a political opportunity for Ed Miliband. Since winning the Labour leadership on an anti-war platform, Miliband has said little about the conflict and about foreign policy in general (not making a single set-piece speech on the subject). Many in the party were surprised when a long-promised "intervention" to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion did not materialise. 

For this reason, the publication of the report will be an important opportunity for him to remind voters, in particular former Lib Dems (whom Clegg will use the inquiry to try and win back), of his opposition to the war and to distance himself once more from the failures of New Labour. Successful political parties learn from their mistakes and there were few bigger than Iraq. As David Cameron seeks to exploit the inquiry's findings for political gain, he should remind him that he and his allies, such as George Osborne (a self-described neoconservative), were cheerleaders for the invasion. 

The inquiry is also an example of why, contrary to much Westminster opinion, Labour elected the right Miliband. Had David become leader, still bearing the weight of his vote for the war, the party would have much more to fear from Chilcot's conclusions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.