I'm so sorry for writing this column

A few seconds of emotion, however bogus, is worth more than hours of party political broadcasts

PERHAPS AT this point, I should set the record straight. There have been mistakes in this column in the past: gaffes, factual inaccuracies, grammatical errors, a lack of respect for my betters, frequent lapses in taste. I could have done better and, believe me, I shall do better in the future. I hope and trust that, now that I have expressed my regret in this open and sincere manner, we can move forward to a better future in which you will find a purer, more accurate and, above all, a nicer columnist. I'm just so sorry.

We all feel better after that, don't we? Because one of the many wonderful things we have learnt in the new political climate is that a little apology goes a long way, whoever you are. The Prime Minister has apologised to the Irish for the potato famine. Bill Clinton has travelled around Africa apologising for that whole unfortunate slavery thing. Paul Gascoigne, Will Carling and Teddy Sheringham have all been terribly contrite about some of the downright careless things they have done. In Australia, the government has even introduced a National Sorry Day, allowing craggy-faced Crocodile Dundee types to get in touch with their caring side by apologising gruffly to members of the indigenous population for certain inappropriate attitudes in the past: taking their land, calling them "Abos", that kind of thing.

In this matter, at least, the politicians are in touch with the mood of the times. They realise that a few seconds of damp-eyed public emotion, however bogus, is worth hours of party political broadcasts. Who could be surprised that, following President Menem's apology last week - said to bear a striking resemblance to Emperor Akahito's semi-apology last year - there is now said to be an Apology Unit working in Downing Street to help public figures (presidents, emperors, even footballers) to present precisely the right kind of contrite public statement.

Presumably the Government's unit has developed an all-purpose statement which, with minor adaptations, can be used on any occasion, along the lines of: "I, the president/the emperor/the England striker, would like to express sincere regret for certain breaches of human rights/the war which took place between our countries/being found blotto at five in the morning in a lavatory with a bargirl. I hope to put the past behind me and, under the beneficent warmth of Britain's new, caring government, look forward to positive future relations with your country/your investors/my lovely wife and kids. Thanks very much, and now can I have those export credits/some nice tanks and aeroplanes/my place back in the England team?"

Not that everyone has learnt how to play the game. Rather touchingly, the Argentinian president seemed to believe that making a public apology involved some sort of genuine regret, and later tried to retract it. More surprisingly, in view of his vast experience in these matters, Bill Clinton had to take several shots at an apology for the Lewinsky debacle before he got it right; the American public, those sophisticated connoisseurs of public humiliation and grief, could tell that he simply was not sorry enough - he hardly even cried, for heaven's sake. Only when he truly grovelled - before his maker, before America, before his wife and child, even before Ms Kneepads herself - was he forgiven by the press.

As a relatively painless way of dispensing with the past, the vogue for apology is unbeatable. It reveals you as a caring human being, a person able to learn from his mistakes. It gives the people a brief, heady sense of their own power. Above all, it costs absolutely nothing and is a convenient substitute for any real action. The point of saying sorry, as any man involved in a relationship will confirm, is to regain the initiative, take the high moral ground, so that, after a decent interval, you can once again get away with anything.

A Sorry Day along the Australian model is surely not enough. Following the success of America's first "National Character Counts Week", surely the time has come for Downing Street to initiate National Sorry Week. Telephone receptionists would be obliged to say: "Hello and sorry, Karen speaking". Jeremy Paxman would apologise to his guests on Newsnight before humiliating them. In school assemblies, a non-denominational prayer of apology would be uttered by children at the start of every day. "I'm sorry, I'm very, truly sorry for things that I have done, and things that I have not done. I have let my parents down, and my school down, but, worst of all, I have let myself down. I just feel terrible about the whole thing. Please forgive me, everyone. Amen."

Then they can all go back to behaving as badly as they like.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis