Tony Blair was always the master of the non-apology. After the disaster of the Iraq War, he tried to get himself off the hook with this tortuous formulation -
"I can apologise for the information being wrong but I can never apologise, sincerely at least, for removing Saddam."
So he wasn't apologising for something that no-one had asked him to apologise for, and while he 'could' apologise for the Dodgy Dossier, it was by no means clear that he was actually doing so. The cynicism of that statement popped into my head again yesterday when I saw Mike Smithson's non-apology for his propaganda letters to voters, because it was very much in the same mould.
"As is widely known I have been a member of the Lib Dems since its foundation and make no apologies for seeking to help the party during elections."
That's absolutely fine, but according to Wikipedia the Liberal Democrats currently have 120,845 members. The other 120,844 somehow manage to "help the party during elections" without conning voters into thinking they are an "impartial election expert" offering objective advice about tactical voting options. That's what people think Smithson should apologise for, not for doing a bit of honest canvassing.
But once the decoy non-apology was out of the way, we then got a fascinating clue as to what has really been going on.
"I should explain that while I approved the text of the letters I did not have a prior view of the list of constituencies they were going to. This was unlike GE2017 when a similar exercise was carried out with me approving every single seat on the constituency list...The party has given me assurances about the future."
In other words, he did not write the letters himself, and although he "approved" the text, he allowed the Lib Dems to choose which seats the advice would be used in. That makes the whole "election expert" thing a nonsense, because unless advice to "tactically vote Lib Dem to stop Labour" is carefully matched to correct constituencies by the "expert" on the basis of voting and polling trends, it might as well just be random noise - or, more accurately, propaganda.
And he's right about one thing - the character of the letters is very different from 2017, when they were making specific claims about specific constituencies, and when the claims did at least have some basis in fact, even if they were being stretched to the limit. For example, the idea that the Lib Dems were best-placed to defeat the SNP in East Dunbartonshire, which could be justified on the basis of the previous general election result, albeit not on the basis of the local elections held just a few weeks before polling day. Compare that specificity to the vagueness of this letter that has apparently been randomly sent out to Scottish voters this time -
I don't believe Smithson wrote a single word of that, and if he approved it he deserves every single bit of criticism that comes his way, because the claims in the letter are not ones that any genuine election expert would ever put his name to in a million years. In the vast majority of Scottish seats, there is no conceivable way that "tactically voting Liberal Democrat" can possibly help to stop Brexit. In every single Conservative-held seat, the SNP are the only credible challenger, and voting Lib Dem would just help the Brexit-supporting Tories to hold on. To the extent that Labour can be considered a pro-Brexit party, the same is true in Labour seats - the SNP are in second place in all of those. In spite of Smithson's blind spots, he's intelligent enough to know all of that, so if he approved that text, he knowingly approved something that is not only untrue, but the opposite of the truth.
And as for the notion that independence isn't "needed", that's self-evidently a political opinion, not something that can possibly be established by polling or election trends. But it's richly ironic that the Lib Dems would choose to put those words in the mouth of Smithson of all people, because he's on the record as saying that he would vote for independence if he lived here!