David Miliband was not at his best on the Today programme this morning as he tried to explain the Government's position on Libya and the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi. In part, this was due to the inexplicable failure of Gordon Brown to explain the Government's position clearly.
It would seem to be this. First, it is good that Libya has given up WMDs and terrorism, and is now co-operative with rather than antipathetic to western nations, particularly Britain. Second, there are important trade interests with Libya, including oil. Third, while the Government was not actively seeking the release of al-Meghrahi, nor was it going to stand in the way of a Scottish government doing so either as part of the prison transfer arrangements or on compassionate grounds. By saying that Brown didn't want his death in prison, Bill Rammell was simply saying this. After all, it was a Scottish decision. The fourth point that hasn't been made as strongly as it should is a clear reiteration of abhorrence about the Lockerbie bombing and its horrendous death toll, and its perpetrator, which is why relatives are so angry about the Scottish decision.
But, that said, this is a defensible if uncomfortable position for the UK government to take, not least because Libya's abandonment of terrorism and WMDs has probably saved many lives. The problem has been that the government has not made its case, at least until yesterday, or attempted to defend it, particularly in the United States, a country that has rarely been shy in advancing national trade or security interests, even under Barack Obama.
Of course, it is abhorrent that al-Meghrahi has been released. But does anybody believe for a minute that if St Dave gets his hands on the keys to No 10 he would not act as Bill Rammell did in similar circumstances? It was noticeable that Cameron did not properly answer Jim Naughtie's question this morning, asking whether faced with a Libyan question as to whether the UK government wanted al-Megrahi to die in a British prison, in a situation where vital security and trade interests were at stake, he would say 'of course I do' rather than use a more diplomatic form of words. Of course, he wouldn't, as David Blackburn points out at the Spectator. Cameron, too, needs to level with the public.