The Herald Scotland | 3 July 2016
by Alex Slamond
In normal political times Wednesday would see the most dramatic event of the year.
Thirteen years after the Iraq war and seven years after the start of his Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot will deliver his findings. In particular for the relatives of the 179 service personnel who died, but also for everyone living with the consequences of this conflict, it has been a long time coming.
However, such has been the all enveloping chaos in Westminster too little attention has been paid to the coming Chilcot report. When the European roof is falling in on one Prime Minister it is difficult to concentrate on just how a previous one destabilised the planet.
Behind his increasingly furrowed brows Gordon Brown might be forgiven for thinking that his own rocky premiership will be reassessed as a period of relative calm between two great disasters.
It would be a mistake to believe that Chilcot and current events are entirely unconnected. The link is through the Labour Party.
I have been puzzling as to exactly why the Parliamentary Labour Party chose this moment to launch their coup against Jeremy Corbyn and just what explains the desperation to get him out last week. It can hardly be because of a European referendum where Corbyn’s campaigning, although less than energetic, was arguably more visible than that of say the likely big political winner Teresa May?
Would it not have been more sensible and certainly less damaging simply to put up another candidate against Corbyn and argue the case to the country? It certainly would have made for less of a pantomime and, with both establishment parties holding simultaneous leadership elections, it would have minimised the damage. So what exactly was the urgency in getting the removal vans to visit the Corbyn’s office last week?
I had a conversation on exactly this point with veteran Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner. He answered in one word “Iraq”. The Skinner line is that the coup was timed to avoid Corbyn calling for Blair’s head next Wednesday from the Despatch Box. Indeed many would say that when Corbyn stated that he would be prepared to see a former Labour Prime Minister tried for War Crimes then he sealed his fate as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Remember until last week his Foreign Affairs spokesperson was Hilary Benn, not only a supporter of the Iraq War but someone who first became a Cabinet Minister as part of the delayed fallout from the resignation of Clare Short in 2003. Indeed Benn had the “reconstruction” of Iraq as part of his Ministerial brief.
At this juncture it looks as if the coup has stalled and Corbyn will survive to fight just one last day on Wednesday. However, will the Chilcot account give him the ammunition he needs or will it be yet another establishment whitewash in the long litany of British cover ups from Suez onwards?
Chilcot will not be a verdict, that much is clear. However, it could still supply the damning evidence for the jury to bring a conviction in. In a triumph of hope over experience my political sense tells me to expect fireworks. This is not so much from the inscrutable, indeed invisible, behaviour of ex-Whitehall mandarin Chilcott but more from the behaviour of Blair. Call this my contribution to the ‘Blair Watch Project’.
Just before the European referendum came to the crunch Blair was back, complete with yellowish tan, haunting the TV studios like some unwanted poltergeist.
Remember Blair has already seen the passages about him in the report. Indeed he has had months closeted way with his lawyers and spin doctors to determine his best lines of defence. In stark contrast the families of the dead will get but two hours of advance notice.
Why then would Blair decide to launch his pre-emptive strike if he wasn’t deeply worried about the Chilcot contents? What would be the point? Surely he would just have kept schtum and waited for absolution on the day.
The fact that Blair didn’t plead the fifth tells me that Chilcot is likely to be damaging and that Corbyn will have his opportunity to paint the difference between a Labour Prime Minister who led the country and the world to disaster and a Labour leader who has consistently opposed reckless adventurism in Foreign policy.
It might even remind some Labour members why they voted for Corbyn in the first place to get a clean break with the past, particularly if he is opposed by another Iraq War supporter like Angela Eagle.