Saturday, September 22, 2012

The non-apology that speaks to the cynicism at the heart of modern Westminster politics

Once upon a time, Tony Blair offered this trademark piece of creative ambiguity to the Labour conference -

"And the problem is I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam."

Now if we'd had a Leader of the Opposition worthy of the name, the first question that would have been asked of Blair when parliament reconvened was : "when you say you 'can' apologise for the information on WMDs being wrong, does that mean you are in fact apologising, that you're physically capable of apologising if you wished but you're not actually going to, or something else entirely?" I mean, I "can" play In an English Country Garden on the recorder, but I've no intention of doing so today. Impossible as it seems, though, the cynicism of the Blair non-apology has just been effortlessly surpassed by the current Deputy Prime Minister.

I was genuinely gobsmacked and dismayed in 2010 when Lib Dem apologists for the coalition reacted to the betrayal over tuition fees by suggesting that a stupid mistake had been made - but that the mistake had not been to break the promise, but to make it in the first place. Does honour have no part to play in modern Westminster politics? It seems not - the philosophy is that it's best not to make any watertight promises at all, because every non-cretin knows that you'll just have to break them, and that you'll become very unpopular as a result.

I might have regained a modicum of respect for Clegg if he had proved better than his cheerleaders, and had made the appropriate and honourable apology for tuition fees - namely an apology for breaking the promise, rather than for making it. But oh no. Instead we were treated to yet more drivel about the supposed utter impossibility of the pledge ever being kept. Well, that's odd, because the promise (which was practically signed in blood) was not in fact to guarantee that a rise in tuition fees would be blocked, or to change the minds of anyone in the Labour or the Conservative parties. It was much more narrow than that - it was simply a guarantee that Liberal Democrat MPs would vote against any increase in fees. There may be many things in this world that Liberal Democrat MPs cannot control (thankfully), but how they themselves cast their votes in parliament is not one of them. It simply requires walking through a door. Were you really not "absolutely sure you could deliver" your own MPs through a door, Nick?

I'm beginning to wonder if he can even deliver the milk.

1 comment:

  1. The way I read his apology was that when they made this promise they had no notion that they would ever make it into government, therefore it wasn't worth making the effort to cost it.

    I'm afraid that Clegg is one of these people who, just then you thought you couldn't respect them less, you suddenly find yourself doing so.