Few investigations can have begun with lower expectations than the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.Critics have been withering:– the Chairman Sir John Chilcot, a former Whitehall mandarin, has strong links to the establishment and is unlikely to rock the boat, they say.– there are no senior legal figures on the panel capable of addressing the key issue of whether the invasion of Iraq was legal. None of the panel members has spoken out against the war.– there is no political pressure for a radical result because the Tories voted for the invasion and the last thing they want is to let the inquiry rock the boat ahead of their expected general election victory in the Summer.– the scope of the inquiry is too broad, possibly leading to insufficient detailed inquiries into complex issues.But Chilcot has denied that his report will be a whitewash, there is clearly a widespread public desire to have all the lingering questions answered and the government has granted immunity from disciplinary action to serving officials and military personnel giving evidence to encourage them to give frank evidence.Do you expect to learn anything new from the inquiry?
Fight them there or fight them here?Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday’s shooting dead of five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain — drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.He accepts that such an approach would result in “more intrusive surveillance in certain communities,” a tacit acknowledgment that Britain’s Muslims would be subject to greater scrutiny by police and intelligence services.His “Fortress Britain” theory takes into account indications that a growing number of experts feel the war against the Al Qaeda’s supporters the Taliban in Afghanistan is unwinnable.It also makes the point that not all Al Qaeda training camps are in Afghanistan anyway.Howells is Gordon Brown’s intelligence and security watchdog and his theory goes counter to the prevailing wisdom in Washington and London, both of which are preparing to send more troops to Afghanistan.Do you agree with him?
Once he was regarded as an obvious front-runner for the job of EU president, then it was pointed out that it was unlikely anyone would be chosen from a country that is not in the eurozone, not in the Schengen border-free area and which has an exemption to the bloc’s charter of fundamental rights.Ah, but if you don’t choose someone with proven political clout to fight Europe’s corner, a G2 of China and the United States will have things all their own way soon, declared Foreign Secretary David Miliband over the weekend.You need someone with a high profile who will stop the traffic in world capitals, he added.Oh no, we don’t, several EU countries say. We want someone with a lower profile who will be better able to secure consensus among members states than Tony Blair.Other detrators say they don’t want Blair because he backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Conservatives in Britain have said that appointing him would be viewed by an incoming Tory government as a virtual act of war and that he runs the risk of being almost immediately thrust into controversy as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war begins.The actual decision is likely to be made at a summit next month. Meanwhile Blair himself seems to be standing on the sidelines, so much so that some of his supporters are urging him to launch a more dynamic campaign.Do you believe Blair’s the man for the job?
The largest review of primary schooling in England for 40 years has said children at five are too young to start formal education and that six would be a more suitable age.The Cambridge University study says play-based learning should go on for another year. Making children start school so young was a throwback to the Victorian age when the factories wanted them to start early so they could finish early and get working on the production line sooner.Only Wales, Scotland and the Netherlands start children off at school so early, it noted. Schooling starts at the age of six in 20 out of 34 European countries, with eight nations, including Sweden, waiting until children are seven.The government disagrees. “A school starting age of six would be completely counter-productive,” says Schools Minister Vernon Coaker. “We want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday. “What do you think? Is five too young?
Fury, resentment and a general feeling of being hard done-by is reported to be the prevailing mood amongst MPs as they reconvene after the Summer break to find brown envelopes of an unwelcome sort waiting for them.These are the already infamous “Legg letters,” the latest symbol along with duck houses, moats and mole-catchers of the expenses scandal which did so much damage to all parties earlier this year.Written as a result of the inquiry headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, they assess the expenses claimed by each MP between 2004 and 2008 and, where anomalies have been found, they either demand repayment or clarification.Gordon Brown is to pay back 12,415 pounds, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg 910 pounds and SNP leader Alex Salmond 700 pounds. David Cameron has been asked to provide more details about his mortgage repayments.But three things have particularly annoyed backbenchers.The first is that Legg has imposed retrospective limits on various categories of expenses that the MPs themselves obviously cannot have known about at the time. He has said the maximum allowable for cleaning for example is 2,000 pounds and that for gardening 1,000 pounds, according to newspaper reports.The second is the perception at Westminster that those MPs who made the really big claims, the ones on mortgage payments, are getting away with it. Saying “sorry” seems to be enough, as in the case of former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.And the third is that some MPs feel they have been unfairly singled out for reprisal by party leaders eager to be seen to be taking action.Do you think they have a point? Is it time to stop harassing MPs and get on with government?