Apologies: The Good, The Bad and The Tuneful

22 Sep

Apologies should be rather simple affairs. A good apology needs to do three things:

  • be genuine
  • admit responsibility
  • indicate a willingness to change

At this point, you’re probably with me. You’re probably thinking of all the times you’ve been wronged and how you deserved an apology which embraces the three concepts outlined above. However, just hold up there, Nelly. Let’s talk about you for a second here. When was the last time you gave a real apology? When you said sorry for bumping into that old man on the bus, were you genuinely remorseful? I actually saw you and could tell that you didn’t mean it at all. So maybe you shouldn’t get up on your high horse and actually listen and learn.

Nick Clegg should have listened and learned as well. By now you have seen/read about/ridiculed/sung along with his recent apology video.

You know I have a bit of a soft spot for old Cleggers—I can’t help it, I tend to take pity of the pathetic and lonely in our society. But if he was intending to win back supporters with a heartfelt mea culpa, he failed miserably. Let’s analyse!

We made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances. But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions, but we shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we could deliver. I shouldn’t have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around, not least when the most likely way we’d end up in government was in coalition with Labor or the Conservatives who were both committed to put fees up. I know that we fought to get the best policy we could in those circumstances, but I also realise that isn’t the point. There’s no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn’t stick to it, and for that, I am sorry. When you’ve made a mistake, you should apologise. But more important, most important of all, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And that’s what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party, we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.

Here’s why it’s crap:

Is it genuine?
No, I don’t believe it to be. Why not? Because I don’t believe what Nick Clegg says anymore. Sorry, liars, but this is what happens when you lie. It’s hard for others to believe anything you say after you prove that you say things that aren’t true.

Does he admit responsibility?
No. He blames it on his innocence, his confusion about how the government machine works. “There was no money around”? Really? There was enough money for seventy four launches of the Big Society, there was enough money for loads of bullshit, because that’s how government works. Everyone—even the Lib Dems—knows that’s how government works.

Also, by claiming “the most likely way we’d end up in government was in coalition,” Clegg is saying the Liberal Democrats never had a chance. That wasn’t what he was saying before the election, and it’s not what people believed after the debates. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but many people voted for the Lib Dems because they wanted Nick Clegg to be prime minister. For him to now say, ‘we didn’t know how hard government is, the big boy rules are way tougher than we thought,’ well, that’s just poor, Nick.

Does it indicate a willingness to change?
No, even though he wanted it to. If we look closely at the “learn from your mistakes” section, we see that what he’s really saying is that he won’t make pledges anymore unless he’s sure he can keep them. But nothing in politics is ever guaranteed. What he should have said is in future he will keep his promises.

As I’ve said before, it’s wisest to avoid having to apologise by not fucking up in the first place. But we’re all humans and humans do mistakes. It’s never easy to make a public apology—from Jimmy Swaggart’s to David Letterman’s—it’s a difficult act to pull off. Perhaps Nick Clegg should have studied the master of the political apology: Richard Nixon.

It’s clearly genuine as the regret is written all over his face. By repeating “I let down,” he shows he is taking full responsibility for his mistake. And was he willing to change? Well, he never tried to cover up any break-ins ever again. In fact, in 1982, when he had to bust out his car window because he’d locked the keys inside, he took out a full page ad in the New York Times detailing the entire event. Nixon’s apology changed his legacy forever. Did you hear those tributes that poured in after he died? People were able to forget about his criminal actions, the thousands of people killed by his military decisions, and the tons of other damage he did to American society and democracy. The flags were at half mast for a whole month, for Christ’s sake!

That could have been you, Nick!

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