Brown’s silence on Megrahi: “absurd” says Clegg, “right” says Steel

by Stephen Tall on August 24, 2009

Nick Clegg has today condemned Gordon Brown for issuing no statement following the release on compassionate grounds of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi:

Although the decision to release Megrahi was a Scottish one for which Gordon Brown was not personally responsible, the fallout puts the UK at the centre of an international storm.

“In these circumstances, it is absurd and damaging that the British Prime Minister simply remains silent in the hope that someone else will take the flak.”

He went further on this lunchtime’s BBC Radio 4 World at One, openly criticising the decision of the Scottish Executive, saying, “I find it difficult to accept that someone convicted in a British court of law should be released as he was.”

But speaking on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme his predecessor Lord (David) Steel – a former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament – defended the Prime Minister’s stance:

“I think they are respecting the proper constitutional position. He’s right to hold off and let the Scottish executive take the strain on this one,” he said. “They’re quite right to wait until the row is over until they pronounce on it.”

Asked his opinion on the release he said: “I think it was a bit ham-fisted, I don’t think he necessarily made the wrong decision. Most opinion in Scotland is in favour of the decision on compassionate grounds.” He went on to say that if the decision had been made the previous week “quickly and quietly there would have been less of a furore when it actually happened”.

Meanwhile a PoliticsHome poll on the issue finds that, though the public as a whole disapproves of Mr al-Megrahi’s release by a margin of 53-35%, Lib Dem supporters approve of it by an almost identical margin, 52-35%.

Lib Dem supporters were also more likely than supporters of other parties to harbour doubts about Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction. A slim majority of the public suspect it was unsound, but by an overwhelming margin Lib Dem supporters believe it’s open to question: 49% agreed the original conviction was suspect, with 25% disagreeing, and 27% not offering an opinion.

Finally, it’s interesting – though not altogether surprising – to note that Lib Dem supporters are by far the most likely to agree with the principle that prisoners can be released on compassionate grounds: over two-thirds (68%) believe it to be right, with less than one-quarter disagreeing.

By contrast, Labour supporters were fairly evenly split – 47% agreeing with compassionate release, 42% disagreeing – Tory supporters disagree with the principle by a hefty two-to-one margin, 61%-32%.