The surprising news that Gordon Brown will, in fact, appear before the Chilcot Iraq inquiry before the general election will prompt further speculation about his true views on the 2003 invasion.
It has often been put about by some close to him that the then chancellor privately opposed military action. And while it is true that Brown might have “done a Wilson” and supported the US spiritually but not militarily, the likelihood remains that he would have done broadly the same as Blair. Why? Because far from being “Old Labour”, he is just about the biggest Atlanticist in the Labour Party, perhaps even bigger than Blair.
Brown initiated the so-called “Clintonisation” of New Labour in the 1990s with a series of trips to the US, where he still holidays. This is relevant, because it is becoming increasingly clear that Iraq was a warped reaction to the September 11 attacks — and that the UK backed the invasion in order to stay close to America.
As to the implications of Brown making an appearance: on the one hand, this could damage him, reminding voters that it was a “Labour war”, even though it was unwisely backed by the Tories. This will stay the case no matter how hard the Prime Minister tries personally to disassociate himself from it.
On the other hand, Brown strategists believe there is a chance that — along with the debates — this could be a chance for him to level with the British people, and that he may even thrive under pressure.
Whatever happens, it should be noted that Brown’s letter expressing his willingness to appear at any time — and the Chilcot inquiry’s U-turn over senior politicians appearing before the election — are a victory for Nick Clegg, who urged more transparency in a powerful intervention at Prime Minister’s Questions.