The Sketch: If he's come to this inquiry with an open mind, he'll leave with one too

Will they do what they are told? They are so well chosen they don't have to be told

Simon Carr
Wednesday 25 November 2009 01:00

Wise old birds will counsel caution, but a rush to judgement may save time in the end. The Chilcot inquiry looks set to be boring, miasmic and faintly dishonest.

Very nearly the first thing Sir John Chilcot said wasn't true. Not casually or mistakenly or evasively untrue. But considered and unambiguous. "I come to this with an open mind." He'd prepared that remark, written it down, sent it out in a press release.

But the fellow served on the Butler inquiry. Listened to months of evidence. Signed up to a report that criticised the then PM for fixing the evidence, misleading Parliament about the planning for the war and jazzing up the famous dossier.

Had the wretch formed no views at all through that six-month process? If he's come to this inquiry with an open mind, he'll probably leave with one too.

Whatever we thought of Hutton's judgement, the inquiry itself was superb and sometimes electrifying. First, the speed with which he set it up, and the mental preparation got it off to a flying start.

He had screens showing the documentary evidence – astonishingly private emails from Blair's personal staff. That was radical new information about how government worked. He used a counsel – the dashing young James Dingemans to pursue lines of questioning, pushing, pressing and keeping witnesses on the point.

Chilcot's lot – for all their reading seem woefully unprepared. Maybe they're pretending to have open minds.

Thousands of documents have been read. But that produced no edge, bite or line of purpose. A rambling collection of assertions would be followed by the self-regarding question: "Is that a reasonable assessment?"

One witness suggested regime change was discussed a bit, another contradicted that. No member of the panel went diving in to explore the discrepancy. No one mentioned the Iraq Liberation Act had passed through the US Congress in 1998 specifically declaring regime change to be US policy – a clue to their intentions, perhaps.

This is a panel that the toadiest of Blair toadies would have chosen. Why Brown agreed to it is a mystery.

Too sharp? One of the panel asked one of the witnesses what the Russian position had been on some Security Council resolution. "You'd know more about the Russian position than I would," the witness said. "Yes," the panel member said, "I was ambassador to Moscow at the time."

We don't know whether the ribald laughter from the press room penetrated down to the hearing.

An ex-ambassador questioning a serving ambassador on government policy. What on earth do we expect?

Will they do what they're told? Good God no. They are so well chosen they don't have to be told.

To be fair, there's a year to go. Maybe they'll get beyond their pass-the-port reminiscences and do some inquiring.

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