James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James at The Springfields Academy
“Sorry,” “My apologies,” “I do beg your pardon,” “So sorry,” “Cheers, mate.” We Brits are great ones for apologising (when we are not busy forming a queue to do so).
There have been a couple of classics this week. Nick Clegg might have hoped that his University Tuition fees volte-face would have been forgotten – but it has been for ever preserved by his apology and by the u-tube parody of it. It might have been better received had he apologised not for making the ‘binding pledge’ in the first place, but for having broken it. And Andrew Mitchell’s rather Chief-Whip-like slapping down of a policeman who was only doing his duty is unforgiveable, and barely improved by his slightly lukewarm apology. (I hope he doesn’t get the Gazette, or my career is even more endangered than it was before.)
“Never complain, never explain,” was Macmillan’s old advice to politicians. And he could have added “And only apologise when it is truly heartfelt, and when it includes a commitment to behave differently in the future.” Will Messrs Clegg and Mitchell behave differently in the future? I hope so....
Of course there is genuine merit in politicians of all kinds apologising when policies go wrong, or when the outcome is different to that anticipated or planned for. There is something rather refreshing about the Prime Minister saying “I am very sorry. I fear that we got xyz wrong, and we are now taking action to put it right.” After all, we are all human, and can make mistakes, or be victims of the law of unintended consequences. If Government was easy and predictable then anyone could do it. Of course we get things wrong from time to time, and it is only right that we should admit it, draw a line under it and apologise for whatever it was.
Yet as one’s time in government grows longer, it becomes harder and harder to apologise. After a time we become more and more committed to a certain line of action or policy view, and changing it or apologising becomes more and more difficult. And policy flexibility, changes, apologies – all are criticised for being “weakness” “U-turns” “flip-flopping” and the rest. One minute our public wants us to be clear-headed and determined; the next minute they accuse us of never listening, ploughing ahead despite everything, arrogance and carelessness.
So I personally would just like to apologise. I could be working harder, I could always do more. Sometimes the views I advance are incorrect or ill-thought-through; I am sorry that I failed to see you down the High Street last week – I wasn’t being arrogant, just short-sighted. I am sorry if I exceed any kind of speed limit; I regret that I may have offended or upset someone. There’re all kinds of ways I could no doubt have done an awful lot better and I am sorry for it. There- does that help? I think not. Correct me if I am wrong, but my guess is that the electorate would prefer the firm hand of government; leadership from the front; determination and grit. So I’m sorry, but that’s what you’ll always get from me.
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