Apologising – it’s hard to do it without digging yourself in deeper. It’s also scary and that’s why we avoid the pain. We want so badly to plead our case and tell our story. The bad news is that everyone has a story. Everyone has a version of how things went down and how they participated. It’s hard to untangle facts and feelings.
That’s Amy Poehler from her recently published memoir, ‘Yes Please’.
I thought of sending a copy of Amy Poehler’s book to Malcolm Rifkind this week, when he popped up to justify his role in the ‘cash for access’ scandal by letting us know that:
“£60,000 sounds a lot of money to anyone earning less, but the reality is that anyone from a ¬professional or ¬business background earns considerably more. I want to have the standard of living my professional background would normally entitle me to have.”
On Monday Channel Four broadcast ‘Politicians For Hire’, a fine, old-fashioned exposé with the traditional grainy footage from a wobbly camera which always has the added benefit of making the misdemeanours of those who are about to be exposed look even shadier.
Certainly Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind are not due any sympathy but I often wonder, when similar revelations appear in print or on television whether we would be all be quite so holier-than-thou if we were offered a ‘too good to be true’ wad of money for simply adding our name to some company letterhead and using our ‘influence’ in return.
If you were walking along a street and you picked up a twenty pound note that you found on the pavement, would you go to the nearest police station and hand it in?
If your local authority failed to pull your direct debit for your Council Tax next month, would you call them up and ask them to ensure they take your payment as soon as they possibly can?
If your plumber tells you that if you pay him by cheque he’ll have to charge you V.A.T, but if you pay him in cash then you can knock that 20% off, what would you do?
“Is it the getting caught; the error of not obtaining permission; or the lack of apology, that ‘gets the goat’ of the media?”
Exactly how thin is that line between earning some extra money in an entirely legitimate way, and using one’s position in an immoral way, to pay for the holiday home in Sandy Lane?
Nick Robinson of the BBC projects a fine and righteous stance when reporting on the failings of our M.P.s, as this week when reflecting on the extra-curricular activities of Rifkind and Straw.
Robinson, of course, is an expert in knowing where the line is drawn, as he will be giving the keynote address next month at the Jersey Finance Annual Funds Conference. There is nothing wrong with this – he asked his line management for approval and they judged that this gig does not constitute a conflict of interest. Which is handy.
Is it the getting caught; the error of not obtaining permission; or the lack of apology, that ‘gets the goat’ of the media, and by default, you and me?
When, earlier this week, Natalie Bennett emerged from that bruising telephone interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, she probably didn’t need a sackful of advisers to let her know she had made a complete ass of herself, but where they possibly helped was in pointing her towards immediate damage limitation in being completely truthful and admitting the interview was a hellish disaster.
The worst response in such circumstances is to try and bluff it out and pretend that everything that just happened was all part of the big plan.
It was particularly unfortunate for Rifkind and Straw that they both gave the impression in the Channel Four film of being two boorish, pompous men, who would dance to any tune for five grand a day. Both of them attempted to stutter onwards, along paths previously trodden by David Mellor and Jeffrey Archer, with the hope that lying doggo might allow the heat to drop after twenty-four hours, but in a similar vein to their predecessors on the avenue of shame, there was no coming back.
In Rifkind’s and Straw’s situation, an apology would be a bonus, but for both, the political game is up.
Rifkind is now no longer the candidate for Kensington and Chelsea in seventy days’ time, and Straw, who suggested in ‘Politicians For Hire’ that he was probably heading for the House Of Lords, need not worry about creating that family crest just now.
What are words worth? Does a chest-thumping mea culpa make everything all right again?
“Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong … I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.”
It has probably taken close to the seventeen years since Bill Clinton made his contrite address to the nation for him to shake off the noose of his relationship with ‘Miss Lewinsky’. It’s unlikely to get in the way of Hillary’s 2016 presidential run. Time heals.
Chris Brown, Tiger Woods, and Mel Gibson (each for different reasons) have still some way to go before their apologies sound much more than attempts to salvage their respective careers. Time has not blessed their sins with healing just yet.
The Emily Post Institute has some wise words for those in the public gaze, who wish to at least try to bounce back:
Making and accepting apologies gracefully are acts of courtesy and maturity, and they are important for matters both big and small. Sincere apologies can defuse volatile situations; it’s hard for most people to remain angry with someone who takes responsibility for his own actions. “I’m sorry” is also one of the simplest and often kindest ways to express sympathy or regret.
However, for many British politicians, as we discovered yet again this week, ‘sorry’ really does seem to be the hardest word.
Terence Dackombe – February 2015