The news that the report of the Chilcot Enquiry – established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown – will not be published until after the 2015 general election has caused predictable outrage in this morning’s media.
Indeed, it seems astonishing that a report commissioned more than five years ago, and initially expected within a year of said commissioning, should have failed to materialise by now – despite David Cameron reportedly lobbying for its release since taking office in 2010.
Meanwhile his Coalition partners have been even more vociferous, with Nick Clegg leading the media charge against Sir John Chilcot’s mystifying reticence. It isn’t hard to see why – the Liberal Democrats did very well in 2005 out of the fallout from the Iraq War, and they would dearly love that trump card back in their hand.
Whatever Sir John’s reasons, you would expect Labour to be unanimously relieved that they won’t need to all the horror stories of dodgy dossiers and WMDs in the run up to so close an election.
Yet according to the Daily Mail, some had seen the report as a fresh opportunity for Miliband to pick a fight with New Labour. The Mail reports:
“Fearing the potential electoral consequences, most senior Labour figures have been desperate for a delay – though some argued publication might allow Ed Miliband to differentiate himself further from New Labour’s record.”
It seems hard to imagine a scenario in which the Chilcot report works to Labour’s electoral advantage. Yet it is possible to construct a chain of reasoning which might explain the latter group’s position.
The Labour leader has, after all, never been coy about his rejection of Tony Blair’s principle-diluting yet election-winning creed.
Indeed he crafted his leadership bid as an explicit rejection of it. It is therefore not impossible – although perhaps not likely – that he might be able to put some distance between himself and the Blair government.
His New Labour opponents in the Labour Party, however, would have a much harder time doing that.
In the Spectator Isabel Hardman speculates that the anti-Mansion Tax intervention of normally on-message Lord Mandelson suggests that the Blairites are not “sitting comfortably” ahead of the upcoming general election campaign.
In an election where Labour will be fighting hard to stop the SNP and the Greens from tearing into their left flank, the last think Miliband is going to want are guerrilla bands of Blairites taking pot shots at him in the media and reminding the electorate how far from the centre he intends to stray.
In that context, one can begin to see how optimistic Miliband loyalists might start to view the Chilcot report as a blessing in (a very good) disguise. How tactically useful to have fresh justification for a decisive break with New Labour.
How morally satisfying to cast Blair’s sins once more into the faces of his remaining supporters, discrediting them and finally clearing space for Ed’s new vision.
Of course, this rosy assessment depends on the sort of voter who casts their ballot on Iraq being prepared to accept the idea of Miliband’s Year Zero, rather than slinking back to the Liberal Democrats or, increasingly, taking a closer look at the ardently pacifist Greens.
Whether he likes it or not, Miliband has too many real opponents to run against the ghost of Tony Blair.