Daily Archives: January 21, 2011

Jim Pickard

When Ed Miliband and Ed Balls met late on Wednesday evening at the former’s offices over cups of coffee they sought to “thrash out” economic differences and agree a joint strategy for the coming years. Both men are aware that the appointment could either be seen as a sign of Miliband’s weakness – did he feel there was no one else? - or his strength, in that he now feels able (rightly or wrongly) to contain the strong Balls ego.

Their task is to convince the world that they have not entered a shotgun wedding – given that some senior colleagues suggest they do not even like one another. (One shadow cabinet member suggests their relationship has the potential to be even worse than Miliband-Miliband, given that Balls used to treat his new boss as the ‘office boy’ back in the Treasury days). Read more

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Prime Minister said today:

“I am very sorry that Andy Coulson has decided to resign as my Director of Communications, although I understand that the continuing pressures on him and his family mean that he feels compelled to do so. Andy has told me that the focus on him was impeding his ability to do his job and was starting to prove a distraction for the Government. Read more

Jim Pickard

Good morning. The Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

12.30: We are now taking another coffee break. Alex will be your host when delivery returns in about 10 minutes’ time. You’ll need to go back to ft.com/westminster and open a new window – ie Iraq inquiry part two.

In the meantime here are some quotes from this morning’s inquiry which will no doubt make the news later.

* Blair told his chief of staff a year before the war with Iraq that the UK “should be gung-ho on Saddam”.

* “Up to September 11, we had been managing this issue. After September 11, we decided we had to confront and change.”

* “There are people who say that extremism can be managed. I personally don’t think that’s true.”

* On his Iraq policy in 2002: “I wasn’t keeping my options open. I was setting out a policy that was very very clear.”

* He said the cabinet was aware of his policy: “Go down UN route, get an ultimatum. If he fails to take the ultimatum, we’re going to be with America on military action.”

* “We were probably the most successful centre left government in the world.”

* “I was raising issues to do with Somalia…the Middle East peace process…Lebanon. My view was that this was all part of one issue, in the end. You couldn’t deal with it sequentially.”

* The nature of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was not a justification for going to war – “but it is why we should be proud to have got rid of him”.

* “I didn’t see September 11 as an attack on America, I saw it as an attack on us – the West. I told George Bush – ‘Whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do, I’m going to be with you.’”

* “When the military pressure was off, he was going to be back, and with far more money. If we had left Saddam there, I think it’s arguable he might have been developing in competition with Iran.”

12.25: Blair has argued that he wanted to get a majority of the UN security council, even if he could not get unanimous support. Sir Lawrence Freedman asked if Blair stopped the UN weapons inspection process just at the crucial point when it was starting to reap dividends. Blair sidesteps the question, saying Saddam was “back to his old games”. Freedman ponders whether a few more weeks may have made a difference?

Blair says Saddam may have made a few more concessions but his overall stance would not have changed – it was still a mistake to leave the dictator in place, he insists. Read more