At first glance, the delay in the publication of the Chilcot Report is outrageous – and at second glance, too. The inquiry on which the report will be based was set up in 2009. The gap between its launch and today is thus much the same as that between the launch and the Iraq War itself. Publication should not have to wait until the latter is a vague memory. Furthermore, the cost of Chilcot has already been some £10 million. The taxpayer shouldn’t have to fork out for more. Why should publication be stalled by the delaying tactics of m’learned friends and Tony Blair (and others)? Bring him to justice!
All most of us have time or patience for is that first glance and, since Jeremy Corbyn has helped to put Chilcot back in the news, David Cameron is channeling the anger that so many feel (or claim to). We read of it again in today’s Sunday Telegraph. Downing Street is impatient. Action will be taken. There could be a vote in Parliament to push for immediate publication. “Maxwellisation” – that’s to, say, the procedure for giving people criticised in the report the chance to respond before it is published – could be speeded up. The law could be changed to make this happen. “I will do such things – /What they are yet I know not, but they shall be/The terrors of the earth.”
Lear’s threats were empty when he mouthed those words to his daughters, and Number 10’s huffing and puffing probably is, too. Chilcot may be wrong to believe that his report will be subject to successful legal challenge if he puts a guillotine on Maxwellisation. But there are no sure means of forcing his hand. The inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown as an independent investigation to be carried out by privy councillors. Legal changes to its remit would doubtless be followed by further legal challenges (and more costs). Or Chilcot himself and his three fellow members might simply resign, claiming that the Government was making their task impossible.
At which point Fleet Street would presumably round on the Prime Minister for trying to make the changes that parts of are now demanding. The moral of the story is that with inquiries, as with so much else, one should be careful what one wishes for. So often, they show up the way we live now: the changing and contradictory demands on government, the tangles of the legal system, the choice of evils – the current child abuse inquiry being a classic example. Perhaps what we now need is an inquiry into the Chilcot inquiry and all those other inquiries…