Chilcot row could scupper Tony Blair's return to centre stage
Blair's followers want him to help Ed Miliband win next election. But shadow of Iraq won't go away
THE RE-ENTRY of the Special One - Tony Blair - into British politics to support Ed Miliband's bid for Number Ten has been marred by an extraordinary Whitehall row which will delay publication of the Chilcot Inquiry report on the Iraq war by at least a year.
Chilcot was due to publish his report - covering an astonishing one million words - on Blair's role in driving Britain to war alongside George W Bush this summer. But in a letter to David Cameron slipped out last night, Chilcot has disclosed he will not be in a position to release it until the summer of 2013 at the earliest.
This means that Blair will still have the Chilcot Inquiry hanging over him for at least another 12 months and if he is criticised - as expected - by Chilcot for ignoring the intelligence warnings against saddling up with Bush, it is likely to undermine his value to Miliband in the run-up to the 2015 General Election.
The row is over the demand by Chilcot for permission to release secret notes of conversations between Blair and Bush when they were getting the posse together to go after Saddam Hussein.
Sir John Chilcot has argued that details of their private chats around the campfire at the President's Texas ranch in 2003 have been published in a host of memoirs including Blair's own A Journey, but he has been blocked from using them by former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell.
O'Donnell told Chilcot that releasing Blair's notes would damage Britain's relations with the US and would not be in the public interest, according to Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian. "We have attached particular importance to protecting the privacy of the channel between the prime minister and president," he said.
In his letter to David Cameron, Chilcot says there are unresolved disputes over "a number of particularly important categories of evidence" relating to "the discussions between the prime minister and heads of state or government of other nations" and "the treatment of discussions in the cabinet and cabinet committees".
Norton Taylor says Chilcot told Cameron he would be in position to "begin the 'Maxwellisation' process by the middle of next year". Under this process, those whom the inquiry intends to criticise are given a copy of the relevant passages of the draft report to enable them to respond. The process - named after the Companies Act investigations into the late but unlamented Robert Maxwell's empire - will delay the Chilcot report even further.
The Chilcot inquiry has cost a fortune. It held 18 months of public hearings between the end of 2009 and early 2011, and heard evidence from a succession of A-list Whitehall figures, from former cabinet secretaries to military commanders. Many of them sharply criticised the way Blair and his close advisers took key decisions without consulting senior ministers and the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.
It might strike the Mole's readers that anyone who thinks Blair can help Ed Miliband win power in 2015 has a loose grasp on reality - but it remains a view held by a small group of believers who regard Blair as the man who showed the nation The Third Way.
Matthew d'Ancona reported in The Sunday Telegraph how he stumbled across a seance of the temple followers when he attended a leaving party for Richard Reeves, Nick Clegg's chief of staff, who is leaving for America, at Kettner's in Soho, the restaurant once favoured by Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie.
"The gathering was a tableau of what used to be called the 'radical centre'," d'Ancona recalled. "Reeves's Lib Dem colleagues mingled with familiar figures from the Blairite high season: Alan Milburn, James Purnell, Andrew Adonis. Much of the conversation centred on Blair's return to the political arena – the strategic consequence, I gather, of an awayday at which Team Tony decided it was time for the Special One to come back from his partial exile and to expunge the charge sheet that still follows him round the world."
With Chilcot haunting him, it looks like the "charge sheet" will follow him all the way to the election and this group will be sadly denied a return of their beloved leader to the centre of British politics.