Lib Dems step up pressure on Brown over Lockerbie comments silence

by Stephen Tall on August 25, 2009

Gordon Brown has, after five days’ silence, commented on the Scottish government’s decision to release on compassionate grounds Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. Mr Brown said he was “repulsed” by the welcome Mr al-Megrahi received on his arrival home.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dems’ shadow foreign secretary, is unimpressed:

Gordon Brown’s comments on Lockerbie are a masterclass in evasion. When a decision is made by another politician, and has such grave international consequences, the Prime Minister’s refusal to say whether or not he supports it almost amounts to negligence.

“It is hard to see why he can’t tell us what he thinks of the decision to release a man who has been convicted of the worst terrorist attack in British history. As long as Gordon Brown remains silent on this issue, people will suspect he has something to hide.”

This appears to be yet another example of Mr Brown’s tin-ear for communication. It strikes me the Prime Minister had two choices, both of which are (to my mind) equally valid.

He could say Mr al-Megrahi’s release was a quasi-judicial decision devolved to the Scottish executive, and that it would be inappropriate for him to comment. Or he could say he respected the Scottish executive’s decision, recognised it was a hard choice, and that he agreed/disagreed with it. The one thing he needed to do was to choose one of those options promptly.

As it is, Mr al-Megrahi’s release has become a process story about the Prime Minister’s inability to communicate or to lead. He has only himself to blame.

Incidentally, the Lib Dems have just issued a press release noting that Mr Brown is not normally so shy in giving his views on decisions made by the Scottish government. In March 2008 in a speech to the Scottish Labour party conference, Mr Brown claimed the SNP would put youngsters’ futures at risk through cuts in education spending. And at the 2009 conference he called on Labour to “work each day to expose the SNP’s vicious programme of cuts.”

A good bit of research, though I think most folk will recognise that this decision – a quasi-judicial one which touches the lives of terrorist victims as well as Mr al-Megrahi’s family – is a little different from domestic squabbles about public spending.