Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Iraq war revisited is a chance for MPs to quip 'I told you so'


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Indy Politics

You have to hand it to Jack Straw. It’s not easy to sit through a three-hour debate as the sole representative of a government which took Britain to war in a 2003 decision reviled by almost all the 30-odd MPs present today – those who voted for it at the time parading their regret, and the rest taking every chance to recall they hadn’t.

True, the former Foreign Secretary, now struggling with his “Maxwell” letter containing the Iraq Inquiry’s criticisms, was heard out as he explained that along with “wholly unfounded suspicions” of a “whitewash”, there was “equal and opposite concern” that Sir John Chilcot might be pressured into “conclusions more starkly drawn than the evidence would allow”. Which sounded a bit like getting your retaliation in first.

Inevitably the calm couldn’t last. When Straw intervened in a speech by Labour’s Paul Flynn to say the UN Security Council had seen Saddam as a threat, a seated George Galloway shouted: “Because they believed you and Colin Powell, because they were fooled. You are lying!” Not to be outdone, an over-the-top Flynn described Straw’s intervention as “contemptible”.

Earlier Galloway claimed that Straw looked “a haunted figure compared with the Spring-heeled Jack that he used to be – as well he might… It will follow him to the grave.” OK. Galloway’s speech was one gigantic “I told you so”. And he plugged his imminent film called, surprise, surprise, The Killings of Tony Blair. But the man can speak. Some of it even dealt with the subject of the debate, the delays to the inquiry, which he had already called “a parade of establishment flunkeys”.

David Davis, the senior Tory behind the debate, had persuasively attacked the “ridiculous protocols” that “assume that serving civil servants are the only proper guardians of the public interest” and had led to Chilcot writing that vital documents were then “being suppressed by Whitehall”.

The Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood was Tony Blair’s aide when war broke out and Margaret Aldred, head of Chilcot’s secretariat, had been “responsible for providing ministers with advice on defence policy matters on Iraq”. And, Davis (correctly) added, the Israeli Winograd inquiry into the 2006 Lebanon war had been completed with vastly greater dispatch.

Tory Dominic Grieve, now convinced of the war’s “flawed premises”, couldn’t understand why the Maxwell letters were only now going out, because he thought the disputes had all been sorted when he was (undeservedly) sacked last summer as Attorney General. So a lot for Sir John to chew on at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee next week. Provided he’s asked the right questions.