Total Politics interviews Richard Ottaway, the new chair of the select committee for foreign affairs. He speaks to us about being betrayed by Blair, the new power of committees and how his new position is the swan song of his career.
Was it a surprise to be elected?
Well, being elected by the entire House is terribly exciting and I am very proud of the fact. I've now got to live up to everyone's expectations. I am really, really looking forward to it.
Was it a really daunting experience?
It was hard work. Having fought for the general election, I then stood for the 1922 committee and then threw myself into another election. I was delighted, but I did feel I had been campaigning and electioneering for several months. I was very glad when it was all over.
Do select committees have more legitimacy now that they are elected by the entirety of Parliament?
Very much so. I think that reports will have more authority. I think the members of your committee who are also elected by their parties will have more confidence in holding to a line — they won't feel pressurised by their parties to hold to a party line. I think that you are going to see stronger committees which are more authoritative.
There has been a huge uptake of the 2010 MPs. 61% of the 232 are now on committees.
Woah, woah, woah. What is interesting about the direct elections onto the select committees is that I expect the new intake, if left to the usual channels and the whip’s offices probably would not have got on at this stage in their political careers.
What will you be pushing for?
We will have to have an inquiry for the rest of July and the latter part of this year into Afghanistan and Pakistan. What is the Foreign Office strategy? Is there an exit strategy? Where are we going? Of course, I don't think you can do anything in international affairs today without a close relationship and keeping in touch with the United States.
Are there any other issues you would like to cover?
I was very struck by two things that William Hague said last week. One is the importance of close relations with the BRICs: that is Brazil, Russia, India and China. I think we need to have a look at that. Particuarly Brazil. I think we tend to ignore South America, frankly. And secondly, the pivotal position which Turkey is now beginning to play in Middle East affairs.
You voted for the Iraq war and also for an inquiry into it. How do you feel about the Chilcot inquiry?
I did vote for the war. I did so because my prime minister Tony Blair told me that the security of the western world was threatened. I felt that when it was phrased like that it would be irresponsible not to support it and I have regretted it ever since. I don’t think we were told the truth: Parliament and the British people. I wait with interest the conclusions of the Chilcot inquiry.
Did you always want to chair a committee?
I have reached the point in politics where the manic behaviour on the frontbench doesn’t have quite the attraction. As you get older and wiser, actually chairing a select committee is a very stimulating job to do as you edge your way towards the end of your political career.
What was your first reaction to becoming chair?
Euphoric. I was sitting in my office in the Commons watching the speaker make the announcement on the monitors.
Who did you phone first?
My wife. She was thrilled.