Lib Dems step up pressure on Brown over Lockerbie comments silence

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.

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  • Noisy Tappet 25th Aug '09 - 8:01pm

    When the hapless Brown said he was “angry and repulsed” by the reception Al-Megrahi received when he got home (could anyone seriously have been surprised?) Ed Davey should have lampooned him for then warmly welcoming and shaking the bloodsoaked hand of the extremist Netanyahu who had, only a few months ago, ordered the slaughter of 1400 Palestinian civilians and the maiming and thousands, and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless.

    That nasty piece of work is still murdering and stealing on a daily basis, and here he is at No.10.

  • Herbert Brown 25th Aug '09 - 8:22pm

    “Gordon Brown has, after five days’ silence, condemned the Scottish government’s decision to release on compassionate grounds Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi …”

    Eh? Am I missing something?

  • The Lib Dem line on this is totally wrong. As much as I disagreed with the initial decision, and as much as I despise Gordon Brown (Texture Like Sun), the fact is he has absolutely no business opining on devolved matters. Davey and Cleg’s attacks are just coming across as deeply childish opportunism.

  • Grammar Police 25th Aug '09 - 9:25pm

    Politicians opin on devolved matters all the time. What’s wrong with saying what you’d have done in the circumstances?

  • Noisy Tappet 25th Aug '09 - 10:10pm

    Iainm is right. The line being taken is cringe-making.

  • Tessa Jowell must have got this wrong.

    Surely our leaders wouldn’t attack the PM for expressing no view on the release while not expressing one themselves?

  • This man (if guilty) and WAS found guilty, deserved no compassion as showed no compassion in killing hundreds of people. He gave up all of his rights when he committed the crime, and should have died in prison, with the guilt hanging over him.

    No time for this kind of person, or politicians who do deals for oil.

    What would Nick have done?

  • Noisy Tappet 26th Aug '09 - 3:56am

    Meanwhile Brown welcomes terrorist Netanyahu, who has enough innocent deaths to his credit to put Lockerbie in the shade, and Opposition leaders aren’t in the least offended. Funny old world.

  • Andrew Duffield 26th Aug '09 - 9:46am

    Al-Megrahi co-incidentally managed to smuggle a bomb from Malta to join a connecting plane to the US via 2 flight changes on the same morning as the Heathrow perimeter fence was breached by persons unknown – a fact not disclosed to the court that tried him. An unsound conviction if ever there was one.

    He will always be guilty though. If the judgement against him were ever overturned, Libya would demand repayment of the compensation it paid to the relatives of the Lockerbie victims, causing further political embarassment in Westminster and the White House. What place for the truth in such circumstances?.

    Gadhafi knew this when Al-Megrahi was offered up as the fall guy of course. And once again, Britain appears bent over a barrel of the black stuff. Our party would do well not to pander to the baying, populist lynch mob mentaility on either side of the Atlantic. I’m with David Steel on this.

  • Herbert Brown 26th Aug '09 - 2:04pm

    “David Steel didnt say, one way or the other, on the question of whether it was right to release him.”

    He gave a pretty good indication:
    “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.”

  • Andrew Duffield 26th Aug '09 - 8:23pm

    What this party should be doing is calling for a full, independent enquiry, which the UK Families of Flight 103 have been asking for since 1989. The UK government has consistently refused their request, despite the questions which have not been dealt with in any of the examinations of the case or the trial.

    We still do not know:
    – the motivation for the bombing, although many theories have been advanced over the years, including the plausible suggestion that it was retaliation by Iran for the shooting down of its passenger aircraft earlier in 1988, which the International Civil Aviation Organisation had predicted at the time was likely.

    – who was involved. Megrahi was charged with “acting in concert with others”. Somehow, it has not been possible to establish who these others were. Surely, this is a major failure on the part of the criminal investigation team? No-one believes that the bombing could have been the work of one man. The Libyan government has never accepted any responsibility itself, only paying compensation to the relatives ”because of the actions of its agent” and never offering any more information about the bombing, despite this being a requirement for the lifting of UN sanctions.

    – why, after a considerable number of recorded warnings, some very explicit, the intelligence and security services failed to prevent the disaster.

    The real tragedy of Al-Megrahi’s release is that his appeal – and the answers to some of these questions – will now never be heard. An independent inquiry is the right thing to be calling for. That would be the real test of Gordon Brown’s “leadership” – and our own.

  • Terry Gilbert 26th Aug '09 - 9:03pm

    Andrew is quite right that we should be calling for an independent inquiry, instead of this puerile attempt to get Brown to say what he would have have done in MacAskill’s shoes.

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