One of the leitmotifs of this Parliament, as I’ve written before, has been the assertiveness of its select committee chairs. Bernard Jenkin is a case in point. Not long after needling the Cabinet Office about civil service reform, the chairman of the Public Administration Committee is now needling them about the Chilcot Report. Yesterday, he threatened to summon Francis Maude and Jeremy Heywood before MPs to explain the four-year(!) delay in its publication.
And Jenkin appears to have provoked a response – from the Prime Minister, no less. David Cameron has since said that “we shouldn’t have to wait much longer” to read Chilcot’s musings. He expects the report to be published by the end of this year.
I’m told that, rather than him trying to chivvy things along, Cameron’s intervention reflects the progress that has been made in sorting through which classified documents should be published with the report: he’s saying that “we shouldn’t have to wait much longer” because, well, we shouldn’t have to wait much longer. But it’s probably also his way of sidestepping the whole Iraq War furore. If a few reassuring words can spare a minister and the current Cabinet Secretary from speaking to Jenkin’s committee, and on such a politically sensitive topic, then so much the better.
In fact, keeping out of Iraq (so to speak) appears to have been a conscious policy of this Government. It’s telling that calls to remove Heywood from the process because of his proximity to the New Labour governments, and replace him with someone else (e.g. the Lord Chancellor, aka Chris Grayling), have been quietly rebuffed. If the Prime Minister were to start shuffling the decision-makers, people would only question his motives. It would no doubt be painted as an attempt to wound Blair and, by extension, Labour.
For now, Cameron simply has to hope that the report is published this year. If the delay stretches into 2015, and close to the general election, then it would have to be held back until at least the summer. And that could make Jenkin & Co. really mad.