Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Forget the Chilcot inquiry, David Cameron's gone to the dogs


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Magnificent as ever, Sir Peter Tapsell today urged David Cameron to “recognise the contrast in efficiency of the inquiries into the Crimean War and the Dardanelles campaign compared with the disgraceful incompetence of the Chilcot inquiry”.

As Tory father of the house, Sir Peter is the only MP who can make those great events feel as if they were yesterday, which for him of course  they are.

And he was dead right. The Crimea Inquiry was begun and finished while the war was still going on! But then the pace of life was so much faster in the middle of the 19th century. 

Chilcot’s task, Tapsell added in case we wondered, was to nail “widely held suspicions that Mr Blair conspired with President George W Bush several months before March 2003, and then systematically sought to falsify the evidence on which action was taken”.

So it was a day for experienced backbenchers. As Labour’s Diane Abbott said, it was “important to find out exactly what has gone wrong” not least in view of the forthcoming inquiry into child sex abuse. “The public would not understand if powerful people … are able to delay publication year after year, as seems to have happened with Chilcot,” she added pointedly.

“Frustrated” as he was, Cameron insisted that hadn’t happened. But when Sir Menzies Campbell, whose party, the Lib Dems, could be the real political losers from Chilcot not being an election issue since they actually voted against the war, sensibly suggested that such inquiries should be “judge-led but with a strict timetable”, Cameron was sympathetically cautious. “More thought” was needed on how to accelerate inquiries. After all he too may one day need to send a tricky issue hurtling into the great afar.

Ed Miliband – who was against the war, but as Cameron kept pointing out, had voted against having the inquiry until Gordon Brown set it up – insisted he wanted it to report as “soon as possible”. Which was a fairly safe bet since Sir John Chilcot says it won’t be (possible) until after the election.

But for a moment forget Chilcot, which quite a lot of people probably will have done by the time it finally comes out. The campaign for 7 May 2015 has already gone to the dogs. Today David Cameron made a shameless electoral pitch to the canine demographic. “We are a nation of dog lovers,” he unnecessarily reminded MPs. “People are very attached to their pets.”

This was only the warm-up. Reasonably enough, the Tory Philip Davies had asked him to ensure the full force of the law was applied after a distressing spate of dog thefts in the Bradford area “for dog fighting, and who knows what fate”? But even Davies must have been surprised by the passion with which the PM projected himself as the dog owners’ champion. “It is appalling when they get stolen… Obviously, the changes we have made on compulsory chipping should help, but my heart goes out to anyone who sees a much-loved pet taken from them.”

This is almost certainly good politics. Harold Wilson was both the last serious dog-owning British prime minister – Paddy, a Labrador – and as it happens, the last to win, however narrowly, four elections. Oh, and he kept Britain out of the Vietnam War.