January 22: Chilcot delays are inexcusable

TWELVE years after Britain and America and invaded Iraq, and six years after the Chilcot inquiry started examining the culpability of Tony Blair’s government, it is a betrayal of the national interest that the final report will not now be published until after the general election.

David Cameron’s frustration was plain to see at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. As Opposition leader, he wanted the inquiry to begin before the cessation of combat operations. And, as Prime Minister, he finds himself powerless to intervene in an independent inquiry process as Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis presses for early disclosure of the Chilcot findings.

It is certainly true that the task handed to Sir John Chilcot and his team was far greater than that envisaged in 2009 when Gordon Brown bowed to public pressure and consented to the inquiry.

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However public confidence in the report’s diligence will be fatally undermined unless the findings are published as a matter of urgency so they can help to shape the next government’s foreign policy.

The delay can be explained by one of two factors – either the inquiry is being poorly managed or it is being unduly lenient in offering the right of reply to those witnesses, like Tony Blair, who is expected to face heavy criticism.

This did not satisfy veteran Tory MP Sir Peter Tapsell who alleged at PMQs that “Mr Blair conspired with President George W. Bush several months before March 2003, and then systematically sought to falsify the evidence on which action was taken”.

Given that an agreement has finally been reached on the publication of Mr Blair’s notes to President Bush, and the seriousness of Sir Peter’s allegation, it is vital that the report is published immediately. Anything less will be a betrayal of the public interest – and the 179 UK service personnel who paid with their lives in Iraq.

Food for thought

Health and economy are linked

THE battle lines for the 2015 general election were, once again, self-evident at Prime Minister’s Questions – the Tories know that the economy is David Cameron’s best hand while Labour will continue to “weaponise” the NHS on Ed Miliband’s say-so.

However the narrow scope of these campaigns, a sad consequence of the Americanisation of British politics, is the failure of the two parties to realise that a prosperous economy requires a healthy society, and vice-versa.

This is illustrated by today’s report into food sustainability which has the potential to influence the pre-election thinking of the major parties who continue to pay “lip service” to the importance of agricultural industry.

Headed by Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh, and further testament to the insight that continues to be provided by Parliamentary select committees, it highlights the importance of Britain becoming more dependent on home-grown food rather than those cheap imports so lacking in quality.

After all, the proliferation of imports is one reason why so much food goes to waste when there are families who simply cannot afford to feed their children and so on.

Of 400,000 tonnes of edible food that is discarded, only two per cent is redistributed to those in need – a scandalous state of affairs that must not be ignored by those shallow-sounding politicians offering little more than soundbites. They need to start providing far more substantiative solutions – for the benefit of food producers and all those people still to benefit from the fruits of the economic recovery now underway.

Snow de Yorkshire

Another tour de force for cycling

NOW to the Cote de Robin Hood’s Bay and other distinctively-named climbs like the Cote de Cow and Calf giving a very French feel to the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire in 100 days’ time.

Though it would be remiss to expect an action replay of last year’s Grand Départ, Yorkshire would not be in a position to host its own international cycling event without the interest generated by the Tour de France.

Alongside rugby union’s World Cup which is also coming to these parts, it already promises to be one of the biggest sporting events to be staged in Britain in 2015 and the breathtaking routes will only add to the sense of anticipation. With two of the stages revolving around areas in the east of the region which were omitted from last year’s Tour, the race further reaffirms Yorkshire’s reputation as one of the world’s great visitor and cycling locations. All that is needed now is for the snow to melt away so God’s own county can be seen at its brilliant best.