A Level Politics

Improving your grade

When should a prime minister speak out?

Posted by Matt Walker on August 24, 2009

GordonBrown The release by the devolved Scottish government of the Lockerbie bomber, Ali al-Megrahi has created an international storm, according to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. The Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill,  faces a grilling in the Scottish Parliament today, amidst heavy criticism in both the USA and UK over his decision to release the convicted terrorist on ‘compassionate’ grounds.

One person who has yet to say anything about the matter is Gordon Brown.  His official spokesman said today that the PM would not comment as this was a matter for the Scottish government. Clegg argues this is absurd.

A crucial function of the prime minister is to act as the official spokesman of the government, asserting its view on a range of issues from the economy and health, to defence and foreign affairs. When the matter is serious enough, people and press expect the prime minister to offer his view. In a matter like this, it may not be enough for the government view to be expressed by the foreign secretary alone.

It does seem strange that Brown has remained silent over the release of al-Megrahi. He has faced criticism in the past that he lacks confidence when not talking about his much-favoured area of the economy. His response to the death of ‘Baby P’, for example, arguably lacked the emotional tone that was required. He also seemed to struggle when the MPs expenses scandal broke, treading water in the wake of David Cameron’s speedboat of a response. Brown is less comfortable in these situations than either Blair or Cameron.

Perhaps there are other reasons for Brown’s reticence. Whatever the cause, he will have to comment on this at some point, and not for the first time will look like he is at the mercy of events rather than their master. Read the BBC article here.

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