Iraq inquiry: Minds were made up a decade ago. Chilcot won’t change them

But the delay in publication will feed into is the public’s gradual disillusionment with party politics

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The Independent Online

Come May, most voters will go to the polls and vote for a political party based on factors entirely unrelated to the Iraq War of 2003. This was true when it looked like the Chilcot report into the war would be published before the election and it remains true now we know that it won’t.

Any harm the inquiry might eventually do to the Labour Party will also surely be mitigated by the fact that Ed Miliband’s pitch to the country is based at least in part on his unwillingness to follow the United States into further military action. There will be no more ‘rush to war’, as the Labour declared on the back of his party’s vote against military action in Syria in 2013. And besides, most of those involved in the prosecution of the Iraq War no longer even occupy prominent positions in British politics.

Therefore the idea, as Isabel Hardman writes in The Spectator, that "voters are now cheated of the information they need to make their minds up in the election" says more about Westminster’s obsession with Iraq than it does about the mood of the British electorate. Outside of an introspective commentariat the country has moved on, and for all the halcyon talk by anti-war activists of a movement which ‘shook’ Blair it’s worth remembering that the former PM was re-elected just two years after the US-led debacle with a whopping Commons majority of 66.

If voters didn’t view Iraq as a significant issue in 2005 it’s unlikely they will in 2015.

And yet what the delay in publication of the Chilcot report will do is feed into is the public’s gradual disillusionment with party politics. We already live in a time when outlandish conspiracy theories are entering the mainstream and when a crankish party of little Englanders can win a European election. Nigel Farage’s appeal is based in part on his ability to point at the political establishment with a Cheshire cat grin and proclaim himself a cut apart. Anti-politics is now the surest entrance into mainstream politics and those who prosecuted the Iraq war with their fantastic claims about WMDs and ‘45-minutes’ must take a portion of the blame.

The Chilcot report should be published as soon as possible if only to assuage this trend.

The mistake would be to assume that the report will significantly alter opinions about the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war. Minds were sealed and rendered impervious to fresh arguments a decade ago, as was demonstrated this morning when Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tim Farron confidently proclaimed that Tony Blair took Britain into “an illegal war in Iraq”.

Why even bother with an inquiry if you’re already so sure?

The best arguments against the Iraq war were never lawyerly ones anyway. Iraq was a serial violator of numerous United Nations resolutions and was perhaps best described by the late Christopher Hitchens as "a prison camp above ground and a mass grave beneath it". A good reason to oppose the invasion was the fact that the pro-war camp had bought so thoroughly into the delusion that democracy could be dropped from the hatch of a B52 bomber. A bad reason to oppose it was its supposed ‘illegality’ based on the votes of Russian, French and Chinese delegations to the UN Security Council – governments which at the time were bloating and sating themselves on lucrative oil contracts with the government of Saddam Hussein. For all his bluster about an ‘illegal war’, I’m fairly sure Tim Farron doesn’t want British foreign policy to be dictated by the economic interests of the Kremlin.

One certainly hopes that the Chilcot inquiry, when it does finally surface, will shed some light on the behind-the-scenes decisions which resulted in us going to war back in 2003. But regardless of what the report eventually contains, you can be certain of one thing: it will be either ‘vindication’ or a ‘whitewash’ according to taste, with very little in between.

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