This morning Mr Blair returns to the centre stage of British politics. It is not a triumphant return. It is the return Mr Brown dreads. It is cross examination day over the Iraq war.
The 2005 election haunted Labour with their Iraq war. Anti war Labour candidates put up. The dislike of the war was one of the main reasons Labour’s vote slumped so low. Mr Blair was lucky, because the Conservatives were still unable to take advantage of Labour’s misery, and some Conservatives were keen supporters of the same war. A sullen electorate stayed at home in large numbers.
Many Labour strategists thought that was an end to it. When Mr Blair left office, they hoped the Iraq war left office with him. It was never going to be that simple. After all, Mr Brown was in the room when the decision was taken, and he had to pay the bills for the hostilities.
I read recently a Labour inspired comment that Mrs Thatcher would never have allowed a similar enquiry into her conduct over the Falklands. That is clutching at a straw that is well broken. The Conservative government did hold an enquiry into the Falklands war. That war was a popular, legal and just war. No-one queried its justice as it was designed to liberate people from an aggressor. It was legal under international law, as a country had been violated by another and sought intervention to free it. The hopes and good will of most of the country sailed with the Task Force.
The Brown/Blair war in Iraq was very different. It was never popular. Many people thought it unjust, intervening in an overseas country because the government did not like its Leader. Some thought it illegal, including we now learn a couple of senior lawyers at the Foreign Office.
So what can we hope to learn from Mr Blair’s appearance? I think the Enquiry should concentrate on three main lines of questioning.
The first would be to tease out the legal position. Parliament was always told the government had clear advice that it was legal. We need to know how many lawyers within government held a different view, how hard fought it was, and why the legal advice changed in the government’s favour at the last minute.
The second would be to find out why Mr Blair was so keen on going to war. Why was Parliament told there was an immediate and worrying threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction when it appears there were no such weapons? When did regime change become the purpose? Why did the UK decide to change this particualr unpleasant regime by force, but not other regimes it disliked?
The third would be to ask why there was apparently so little intelligent planning for what was to happen once the war had been won. Why did they make such bllunders in handling Iraq after they had won?