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.

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Why I'll miss Sean Spicer, the tragic hero who couldn't cope with Trump

He was all of us when we have a sociopath for a boss.

From the first day he walked up to the White House press podium, in his ill fitting suit like an intern on his first day in the office, my heart went out to Sean Spicer. He did that classic thing you do when you have a very strong brief from your new boss and no idea what you're doing. He went completely overboard. Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd wasn't only huge, contrary to actual photo, video and eye witness reports, it was exceptionally huge. In fact, it was the biggest in history. Period!

We all had the same thought. This guy? This is who you pick to be White House press secretary? He crashed on to the scene all stutters and swivel eyes and redundant suit material. It was a fitting debut for the Trump’s administration.  

It was the start of a show that would give us Sean Spicer’s ABCs, a montage that poked fun at his tendency to mispronounce words and foreign leaders’ names. His greatest hits include saying "sometimes we can disagree with the facts". He brought on to the stage two piles of paper, one large and one small, pointing to the larger one as evidence of what "big government does", like he was on Sesame Street showing the kids the difference between BIG and SMALL. He said even "someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t sink to using chemical weapons". Just face palm, head-desk stuff everyday. His press briefings descended into laughter from the press and cries "oh come on Sean. Sean??" as he stormed off in the middle of a briefing.

But somehow, you couldn’t get mad at him. Or mad enough. Sean Spicer is that man who collapses late into the meeting he is supposed to be leading, sweating, nervous, spilt coffee down his tie and a distinct air of having stress-induced heartburn, before overcompensating for it by talking over everyone and throwing his weight around. More than anything, Spicer just seemed scared. His bursts of irritation and anger masking a deep seated sense of inadequacy probably much exacerbated by Trump reportedly chewing him out everytime he didn't come across as slick enough.  

Despite working for a dishonest and dissembling White House, Spicer never felt like the actual bully. He was the bullied. The kid who wanted in with the big boys and did their bidding but actually wasn't that bad inside so never did it with much effect. Indeed, he was all of us when we have a sociopath for a boss, a recent promotion, and a mortgage. All of us when just trying to get through the day when we don’t believe what we’re selling and are crippled by impostor syndrome. He was a tragic hero. Someone who just wanted to be taken seriously but somehow had missed out on all the genes that would enable that. The man who shoveled elephant excrement at the Big Top but stuck with it because he wanted to work in show business. A modern day clown who hated people laughing at him and cried after the show. And then there was Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live rendition which drove the final nail in the coffin of his hope to ever develop any gravitas. But it was as affectionate as it was brutal.

None of this excuses any of his complicity of course. I over embellish for effect. He went out there and lied day in and day out, but as his tenure went on, his suits got better, but one felt that he wasn’t coping. People who could work for Donald Trump and not have a nervous breakdown probably fall into two camps; those who agree with him and all his tactics, and those who don’t but are careerists. To be in the latter and be able to sleep at night requires a pretty high functioning ability to compartmentalise and, let’s be honest - kill your soul.

In a recent interview, Tom Ricks, the veteran journalist said:

"It's a crushing burden to be in political power in Washington these days, and you see people almost lose their souls. I think Sean Spicer, the president's spokesman in recent weeks has been pushed almost to the edge of a nervous breakdown from his public appearance. And he's kind of lost a big part of his soul, and I think that's true of some other people. And watching H.R. McMaster, an officer I do admire, over the last few weeks, I feel like I've seen him come out and give up a slice of his soul a few times. And I wonder how many more times he can do that before he just says I am becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution here."

That’s what it felt Spicer was doing everytime he came on. Giving up a slice of his soul. This might be a charitable explanation and he’s just really bad at his job. But when Sarah Huckabee Sanders began job sharing with him, it looked like her relative competence was less attributable to the fact that she was a better press secretary, and more that she was a soulless stone cold liar who felt no dissonance.

As Anthony Scaramucci came onto the podium to accept his position as White House Communications Director, the appointment that Spicer allegedly resigned over, it was clear that it could get a lot worse than Spicer. Scaramucci put on a sickening display where he said he "loved" and was "loyal" to the president about ten times, as Huckabee, now fully wearing the late Sean Spicer’s shoes as White House Press Secretary, looked on dead-eyed from the sidelines.

Sean Spicer still has a chance to completely blacken his name and lose any fondness he may have fostered by leaving the White House, joining the cable TV circuit  and continuing to shill for the Trump administration. This is a highly probably scenario. But until then, here’s to Sean Spicer. You were the best White House press secretary ever. Period!