5 Mar 2010

Gordon Brown faces a small Iraq inquiry gauntlet

Not many demonstrators – about 30? – outside for Gordon Brown’s appearance at the Iraq inquiry.

If you were his public relations adviser you might suggest he walk the small gauntlet to distinguish himself from the blacked-out car that sped Tony Blair in a secure car park here – openness and all that.

We’ll find out soon enough whether the Iraq inquiry team see it as their business or not to satisfy the curiosity of political reporters here as to exactly what Gordon Brown thought about the war. It’s the first subject he’s going to be asked about.

They are, on past evidence, more interested in contributions at vital meetings they know about – like the pre-Crawford Chequers summit (I hear Gordon Brown was not there), Cabinet meetings (he particularly contributed to the one after the French “non” on a second UN resolution – Robin Cook’s memoirs suggest he raged against the French).

What you can brace yourself for, if you are following today’s events, is some pretty impenetrable stuff about Resource Account Budgeting.

That was the system in vogue in Whitehall in Gordon Brown’s days at the Treasury, seen as a way of getting departments to dispose of assets they don’t truly need (you charge them for the cost of maintaining the assets – they recoup the money forgone when the asset no longer needs to be maintained).

This worked a treat in a lot of departments, but where the assets were vast – MOD and Transport – it led the departments’ spending potential to swell.

The MOD did what it was told, stuck to the new budgeting system and had more to spend.

When Gordon Brown realised what was happening he tried to jump on the MOD and that, I am told, is where the “guillotine,” as former Perm Sec Sir Kevin Tebbit put it to the Iraq Inquiry, struck.

The MOD then felt it was about £1bn a year underfunded for what were the three critical years of the Iraq war.

Therein lies quite a lot of the animosity between Gordon Brown and the armed forces, though there was a lot of bad mood music, slights and hurt layered on top.

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