Tom Richmond: The two Eds must start using their brains

IT is repeatedly said by Labour that “two Eds are better than one” as the party comes to terms with life in opposition.

It is certainly true that Ed Miliband, as leader, and his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are in roles that best reflect their abilities.

Nevertheless, as events of this week have demonstrated, both Yorkshire MPs will have to come to terms with the past before they can prepare for the future – and any prospect of a return to power.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Here are two examples. Miliband’s response to the Cabinet Secretary’s report into the scandalous release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, amounted to just 212 words.

That is not even one word for each of the 270 people who were murdered when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up in 1988. And, while Labour continue to maintain that al-Megrahi’s release was a matter for the devolved Scottish administration, run by its fierce SNP rivals, there was no hint of an apology from Miliband for the role of Gordon Brown’s government in this affair.

Presumably this scandal – described as “shoddy business” by Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Scottish Secretary at the time of the atrocity – was what Labour meant by the phrase “ethical foreign policy”.

Equally, it was rich that Balls should lecture George Osborne, the current Chancellor, for imposing another banking levy when he, and colleagues, failed to regulate the banks – or put in place clear rules on bonuses when the sector was bailed out by the taxpayer.

It’s not good enough to blame Osborne for what he said and did not say when in opposition; Balls was in the Treasury and this happened on his watch. He cannot erase this from history, much as he may like to.

These two issues are indicative of Labour’s challenge. It needs to regain the public’s trust. But, until its key lieutenants accept that they made mistakes, the likes of Miliband and Balls will be easy – and convenient – targets for the coalition Government.

Once Labour have done this – and Liam Byrne began the process with some welcome contrition this week on welfare reform – it will be far better placed to hold the Government to account.

ON a related subject, can Gordon Brown parade himself as a Parliamentarian in developing democracies when he did not even have the courtesy to attend the House of Commons on Monday to defend his government’s involvement in the early release of the Lockerbie bomber, the terrorist involved in this country’s greatest act of mass murder?

ALEX Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of Holyrood’s minority SNP administration, is – predictably – talking up his May election chances, even though his party trails in the polls.

The reality, however, is that Labour may beat the SNP, but still have to form a coalition in order to push through a manfifesto. Given their emnity towards the SNP, that brings the Lib Dems into play as the nuances of a PR voting system are calculated.

A Lab-Lib Dem pact has worked north of the border previously. Could it happen again? There’s every chance. But what message would it send out if the Lib Dems governmed with Labour in Edinburgh, and with the Conservatives in Westminster?

It is one challenge that Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg probably does not want in an already difficult year.

IT is clear why David Cameron has chosen to replace his shamed director of communications, Andy Coulson, with a BBC high-flyer rather than another tabloid journalist.

He knows that the Government has to raise its game on the airwaves, particularly with a view to the leadership debates that will inevitably preceed the next election.

Cameron also needs Craig Oliver’s insight on the BBC and its approach towards the coalition. For, on Sunday, the Corporation was running for hours – and without rebuttal – Labour’s claim that up to 10,000 frontline police officers could be axed in the spending shake-up, while failing to remind listners that Gordon Brown’s government made no commitment to maintian police numbers at existing levels.

THE failure of Ministers to provide direct answers to straight questions was indicative of the coalition’s troubles over the proposed Forestry Commission sell-off that has now been put on hold.

Take Labour veteran Dennis Skinner’s recent intervention. “We hear today that farmers and many others are not able to get hold of grants from the banks to further their causes. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State tell the banks that under no circumstances will they be able to buy forests?”

The fact that Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman could not provide a one-word answer showed that her department was, if you’ll excuse the cliché, barking up the wrong tree.

WHY has there been so little fuss about the £1bn that the Highways Agency wasted when widening the M25 around London?

This strikes me as further evidence of how transport policy is skewed in favour of the South.

Just think – this money could have built four Trolleybus schemes for cities, like Leeds, that remain public transport backwaters.

THE pitchside advertisements were more revealing, and interesting, than the England football team’s friendly international in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

Why, when public spending is under so much pressure, were there adverts for the nationalised Northern Rock, and also Thames Valley University which, like all higher education faculties, is feeling the financial pinch?