19 July 2010

Megrahi: What is Kawczynski up to?

Daniel Kawczynski is Tory MP for Shrewsbury and Afcham, Chairman of Westminster's All-Party Group on Libya, and to recent notoriety, wrote this open letter to David Cameron:

Dear Prime Minister,

In the run-up to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, I attempted to interact with the Scottish First Minister and Justice Secretary, asking them to reconsider their intention to release Mr Al-Megrahi.

As you know, they refused to heed the concerns of many people throughout the UK and abroad and release was sold to us on compassionate grounds stating the prisoner had only three months to live.  Now, of course, we hear the medical advice was inaccurate and Mr Al-Megrahi, ten months on, continues to live in Tripoli and there are predictions he may live for more then ten years.

Today I have learnt of calls by senior American Senators for an enquiry and investigation into this release, given the fact the Scottish Justice Secretary made such a dreadful mistake. The Scottish Executive has made a decision of a profoundly misguided nature which has had an impact on the standing of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the Arab world and beyond.

I therefore ask you as Prime Minister to assess how your government can hold the Scottish Executive to account and urge you to work towards holding a full public enquiry into the release.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Daniel Kawczynski MP

Actually, when I said notoriously, that wasn't quite accurate. Poor Kawczynski's inner detail and individuality has generally been hollowed out by the press, who have styled him in generic silhouette as "a Tory MP". Since I first encountered this story, I've been trying to puzzle out what it might be about, what might have precisely motivated Kawczynski. Despite representing an English constituency, he has Scottish connections, having been educated at the University of Stirling. His epistle certainly focuses on the actions of Scottish ministers, with some dark insinuations that some secret motivation impelled MacAskill to order Megrahi's compassionate release, which the Tory suggests were merely "sold to us", presumably in a hucksterish fashion. Quite what he believes to have been the actual, private motivations of Scottish Ministers, he doesn't say. To quote Alex Massie's worthy, surgical dissection of the procedural and substance ignorance demonstrated by US Senators Gillibrand, Lautenberg, Menendez and Schumer, cited by Kawczynski:

If much of the press reporting is to be given credence we are asked to suppose that MacAskill would have released Megrahi come what may. This, of course, is because of BP and HMG and all the rest of it. But for this to be true we have to believe that if the doctors had said Megrahi's prostate cancer was not so serious and he'd live for another year at least MacAskill would have said, Well that doesn't matter I'm going to release him anyway and so what if this rides roughshod over both established practice and the law? I want to be a Big Boy playing on the big stage. I suggest that this is implausible.

There is, of course, another version not addressed by Mr Massie. Kawczynski may take a different view and suspect Kenny MacAskill of any number of outrages and undeclared secret allegiances which really motivated his release of Megrahi. He may be alleging some form of subversion, or bribery and corruption. If that is his belief, if that is his allegation all evidence despite, then his intervention begins to make some sense. In Kawczynski's fevered imagination, Scottish Government giggerypokery, cover-up and loose practice of scandalous degree is implicated. Alternatively, he may be making a weaker case, ably set out above, that some other overweening aspect of the MacAskillite personality took over. One of these understandings is presumably appealed to in his innuendo-laden phrase about "selling" compassionate release. It is difficult to discern which.

However, there is an alternative explanation for Kawczynski's actions. Given the mounting cynicism and bad faith of all of this, I can't help but wonder if this late low-level Conservative agitation isn't really an excuse slyly to stick it to their Labour predecessors. It may well me that my own fevered Machiavellian consciousness is retrodicting cause from consequence, seeing Tory deliberation and cunning where there is only misinformation and ignorance. Whether by accident or design, as a stratagem, it isn't bad.

Consider. While the letter ostensibly lingers on Scottish ministers, their response was pointed and predictable - distinguishing the heavy attitudes of the compassionate release with the fast and louche international diplomatics and oleaginous commercial fug surrounding in the Prisoner Transfer Agreement which Labour concluded with Gadaffi. Crucially, this riposte was predictable. All it took was a little Conservative provocation. All in the best interests of the Coalition, you might think, to summon back to mind and reinforce perceptions of the outgoing government's record of murkiness, want of transparency and dodgy international dealing. They're all pregnant themes, ones to give Labour's current leadership contenders restless nights and bad dreams. But it was not so easy to turn the story into one about Labour's custodianship of its governmental offices. Kawczynski couldn't just produce a shovel, shift a clod or two and simply produce the body and expect the press to give a fig. Rather, he had to press the instrument into gravedigger Salmond's hands and have him remind everyone what a band of villains the coalition has seen off and out of office. This morning's Herald furnishes a stinging headline encapsulating everything I mean:  "Salmond: Ask Blair about Megrahi", with the quotation:

“If the US Senate wants to get the truth about the deal in the desert by the UK and Libyan governments in 2007, they should call Tony Blair to give evidence. Blair was its architect – he would be the one who knows about an oil deal.”

After all, the accusation of "ducking responsibility" or attempting to slither out of accountability hardly seems to apply to MacAskill, unless you assume he acted in bad faith and that bad faith has gone undetected. If alternatively you opposed the release but do not assume undisclosed occult mischief in the Scottish Government, MacAskill's accountability has abounded with critical Scottish parliamentary statements, debates, votes and reports on his conduct and his decision. That's what makes me wonder - just wonder - whether the Tories knew this all along and calculated that they'd rough up the SNP to give the Labour party and ex-Labour ministers a fresh bruising. That the Nationalists receive a cut or two in the process is merely a welcome collateral wounding. You may think such finesse political gouging is beyond Tories in general or Daniel Kawczynski in particular. Whether by intention or design, however, "the Tory MP's" Megrahi sally has not served so much to hold Scottish ministers to account as to make another coterie of ministers blush, rummaging for fig-leaves to conceal their own shame.


  1. Three months to live - give or take a few weeks - perhaps, if Mr al-Megrahi had been left where he was in prison.
    Remove him from prison and return him to his family amidst all the welcome and care the Libyans could lavish upon him and "three months" turns into a minimum. Mind over matter is strong stuff.
    The inexact science of medicine (particularly in the notorious prediction of life expectancy) is full of similar tales of patients outliving the provisional prognoses of the medics. Would Mr Mandela have reached his 92nd birthday yesterday had he still been incarcerated on Robben Island?
    Well I suppose the best place to find fig-leaves will be from the 'deal in the desert' but I reckon Mr Blair bagged the biggest one?

  2. Could there be something more sinister here?
    The might of the British State has still to be visited on the Scottish Government in the pursuit of Independence. Could this be a rumbling in the undergrowth?

  3. Absolutely Clarinda,

    Medicine is an area of knowledge about which I'm sadly ignorant, however, I've a strong sense of the limits of human knowledge - nothing more so than the immodesty of most of our efforts to predict anything as complex and susceptible to situational influences as prognosis. Others are more optimistic about our capacity for precision and unerring prophecy. When it suits them.

  4. You remind me of a point I had intended to incorporate in the blogpost above, Liz, but it slipped my mind when I came to the writing.

    To address your question first, obviously one can't entirely rule out such backstage sinister machinations but for myself, I don't find them terrifically plausible in the circumstances. Put it this way. If MacAskill was "got at", either by members of the intelligence services or other UK political forces, urging him to do one thing rather than another - why would he keep his mouth shut about it?

    Which brings me onto the point I had meant to raise. While it is terrific fun slamming the factual inaccuracies of moronic American senators, it is worth conceding that they probably have no real sense of the "local politics" of the UK. Hence, conspiratorial arguments might look more plausible, if you assumed that the Scottish Justice Minister would, if pressed by UK ministers, fall into line. I'm almost certain that the US figures have no sense of the dynamic between Labour and their SNP counterparts during this period. Taking those circumstances into account, it seems to me unlikely that UK figures would overtly attempt to subvert MacAskill's decision. Anything more explicit, more sinister - would surely have been a massive gamble on their part, not least because they would be risking public exposure and not getting the result they desired.

  5. 23 Aug 2009

    Kawczynski: "I cannot understand why Megrahi was not sent back in exchange for Wpc Fletcher's killer."


  6. G. Campbell,

    You're certainly right to emphasise that Kawczynski has form on this matter. Short memories and forgetfulness - what would our politics do without those benevolent twin sisters?

  7. It must be the primary purpose of idiocy to create more idiocy.

    Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds was the ideal opportunity to draw a line over this whole sorry affair.

    In the first place, his conviction was unsafe; the forensics unsound, lacking in comprehensive logic and coverage; the witness testimony choreographed and scripted which did nothing for the integrity or independence of the Scottish judiciary.

    The White House and Westminster played politics; wrote the script, painted the backdrops, supplied the props and recruited and rehearsed the actors then only allowed their play to be shown to a limited audience.

    Fool, as he's portrayed to the Western World, Gadaffi may have played a part, or turned the blind eye to those who did. But that's not the question here, it's whether Megrahi's guilt was proven and justice served or political expediency.

    As always I could be wrong, but in the world of politics, expediency seems to have the bigger resources.

  8. Thanks for the comment, tatterdemalion Philosopher. At the end of another recent post on the subject, I emphasised your point somewhat. It is the worst of dishonest ideological bunk to insist that all of the iffiness and doubt surrounding the conviction shouldn't even be considered. It is something of an achievement that the apprehensions about the Megrahi conviction are comparatively well-known or at least a familiar aspect of public discussions, when the Lockerbie bombing is raised. Because politicians feel they have to cling to the justness of his conviction, this is one aspect of the public debate which is profoundly odd - leaving out a major and relevant issue.

  9. Bear in mind that this is the Lockerbie bombing we are talking about here, where sinister things occur. Like the doctor who drove up to help on the night of the bombing, identified 53 bodies and was told that officially 52 were identified and was villified for it. Or the red tarpaulin over the container, or the suitcase full of drugs. Or even the cover up over the break in at Heathrow on the morning of December 21 1988.

    Whatever happens, there's too much vested interests at work here for the truth to get out.

  10. Of course politicians have to cling to the justice of his conviction. Legally he is guilty. It would have been utterly extraordinary if Kenny MacAskill had said I'm going to let him go home to die because it is right to show mercy and I reckon he might not have done it anyway.

    They don't have a choice about accepting the verdicts of courts. Lawyers can challenge verdicts through the legal process. Politicians can't.

  11. http://bigrab.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/when-cameron-met-obama/

  12. Certainly Indy - but it seems that in some parts of the public discussion, that reasonable principle becomes another arguably unjustifiable position - that nobody ought to question the chap's guilt - that until such time as a Scottish appeal court overturns his conviction, we all must assume he is "guilty in law", without comment, critique or any exercise of independent judgement. Even if we were to argue that MacAskill ought not to have taken it into account, I don't see how folk can avoid considering it, when analysing the broader ethics of releasing the man. To do so seems like an artificial nicety and a pernicious starting point to me.

  13. To whit, you raise another reasonable point Allan. I'm not sure to what extent the public knowledge is informed (1) about the limited circumstantial evidence which convicted Megrahi and (2) the various shadowy - or shall we say unexplained - circumstances surrounding the case.

  14. Ah, the joys of poeticising great affairs of state - I know those pleasures well Big Rab! You've put me in the mood. I wonder who to rip off this time...