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Gerald Ingolby remains reluctant to hold his breath

Officially launched on 30th July 2009, the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s conduct of the Iraq War was originally intended to conduct its business and publish its report within twelve months. Nearly four and a half years later it is still some way short of being able to do this because of what might politely be described as ‘administrative difficulties’. According to the Inquiry’s website, still to be completed are the text of the report; its checking; the declassification of thousands of documents from which extracts may be made public; and the ‘Maxwellisation ‘ process, by which those who may be criticised in the report are warned in advance.

It may not surprise anyone that the last two of these are the primary causes of the hold-up.

We learned this month that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is currently refusing to declassify the records of 130 conversations between British premiers Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown and US President George W. Bush.

I do not know, but I presume that Heywood’s reticence can only be for one or more of the following reasons – a convention against releasing such sensitive records this early; embarrassment as to what is revealed about the timing of Blair’s commitment to the Iraq War; and/or the potential adverse effect upon relations with the USA that would result from their release.

Separately, although it is unclear as to whether the ‘Maxwellisation’ process has begun, it can be presumed – logically – that this does not, or should not, depend upon completion of the declassification equivalent.

The Tony Blair brand is now so toxic in Britain that, whatever the report of Sir John Chilcot and his Privy Council committee contains, it will neither satisfy the protagonists nor resolve the key issues.

The ‘anti-War’ camp will accept nothing less that Blair’s total vilification, whilst Blair and his supporters will object to anything which attacks his integrity, or suggests he played the British parliament and public for fools.

It makes you wonder why it ever came to this, and why successive British governments consistently make the same mistake when it comes to official inquiries, which – in anticipation – probably seem like an expedient method of kicking potentially embarrassing problems into the (medium to) long grass.  They keep coming back to bite you were it hurts.

The tendency, of course, is either to invite derision, by deliberately setting the terms of reference so narrow as to emasculate in advance any likelihood of satisfying those seeking blood [example: the Hutton Report], or – alternatively – establishing them so vague and open that the Inquiry goes on, freewheeling out of control, to uncover all sorts of questionable acts, motivations and embarrassments that you had never imagined would emerge when you set it up [example: the Leveson Inquiry].

The Chilcot Inquiry, which has already cost the best part of £7.5 million and counting, seems to sit somewhere between the two.

The circumstances in which Britain became involved in the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq – or rather, people’s suspicions about them – are some of the biggest contributors to the public’s current disillusionment with politics and politicians. However, we are all being naïve in the extreme if we believe that Chilcot will ever get near the truth, or indeed be allowed to publish it if it does.


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About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts