Labour has a case to answer on the Lockerbie bomber

We were not told that the government did “all it could” to facilitate al-Megrahi’s release.

The news that the last Labour government did "all it could" to secure the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, has prompted David Cameron to claim that MPs were not given "the full picture" at the time. Labour has responded by pointing out that nothing in the report contradicts what David Miliband told MPs on 12 October 2009.

If you compare Miliband's statement with Sir Gus O'Donnell's report, it becomes clear that Cameron has a point.

Here's the key quote from the O'Donnell report on the release:

Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Mr Megrahi's transfer under the PTA or release on compassionate grounds as the best outcome for managing the risks faced by the UK.

And here's the key extract from Miliband's statement:

British interests, including those of UK nationals, British businesses and possibly security co-operation, would be damaged, perhaps badly, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison rather than Libya . . . Given the risk of Libyan adverse reaction, we made it clear to them both that as a matter of law and practice it was not a decision for the UK government, and as a matter of policy we were not seeking Megrahi's death in Scottish custody.

As Miliband made clear at the time, the Brown government favoured the release of Megrahi "as a matter of policy" but did not formally lobby the Scottish government. This assertion is supported by the report, which notes that "the former Government took great effort not to communicate to the Scottish Government its underlying desire to see Mr Megrahi released before he died".

But while Miliband's statement is not contradicted by the report, he said nothing to suggest that the UK favoured Megrahi's release to the point of actively "facilitating" an appeal by the Libyans. The problem, in other words, is not what he did say but what he didn't say. Miliband has since (rightly) admitted that the release of Megrahi was wrong. He should now also admit that the government failed to give MPs the full picture on Megrahi.

NB: It's worth pointing out, as few have today, that Megrahi's conviction is widely disputed. Read John Pilger's column from September 2009 for the full story.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.