Village People: The Coalition: a year in apologies

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Indy Politics

When David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood on the lawn at 10 Downing Street to herald the creation of a coalition government, there was an implied promise of a new kind of politics. Things have not all worked out like that, but it has been a good year for humility in public life. Every few days, another politician has owned up and said sorry. Here are some of the highlights of a sorry year.


Liz Kendall, the new Labour MP for Leicester West, made the first apology of the new Parliament, after being told off for tweeting a photograph of the state opening. "I didn't mean to break any rules," she said. A week later, David Laws admitted using his expenses to pay rent to his partner. "I regret this situation deeply... and apologise fully," he said, and resigned.


The Speaker John Bercow (height 5ft 6in) claimed not to have heard Simon Burns, a Health Minister, calling him "a stupid sanctimonious dwarf" so Mr Burns did not say sorry to him. But he issued an all points apology to "any group of people" he offended.


"We are a very effective partner of the US, but we are the junior partner. We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis" said David Cameron, thereby offending veterans who remember Britain facing the Nazi menace alone in 1940. His staff issued a hasty explanation that he had meant to say "the 1940s".

On the home front, the Tory MP Rory Stewart apologised for saying of his constituency: "Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine." He was trying to make the point that not all Cumbrians are wealthy.


Dring! dring! went Danny Alexander's phone. It was Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, on the line, after a speech in which she had described the Chief Secretary as a "ginger rodent". She was ringing to apologise.


The apology that angry students most wanted to hear was from Nick Clegg, for breaking his pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees. Though he never actually said sorry, he showed a tinge of regret when he told ITV1's Daybreak: "I should have been more careful perhaps in signing that pledge."


The biggest helping of Yuletide humble pie was eaten by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, caught boasting to undercover reporters: "I am embarrassed by these comments, and I regret them". But the nation found greater festive joy in the discomfort of the Today presenter, Jim Naughtie, as he apologised for wrongly saying the surname of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.


It was the turn of Bob Diamond, head of Barclays, to say sorry, but no one showed him the script. "There was a period of remorse and apology for banks. I think that period needs to be over," he told a Commons committee. What a banker!


"I would like to take full responsibility for the situation which brings me here. I'm sorry. We got this one wrong," the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, told MPs after abandoning the policy of selling off state owned woodland.


In his morning mail, John Bercow came upon an apology from the Tory MP Claire Perry. Frustrated that she had been unable to speak in a debate, Ms Perry had been overheard exclaiming: "What have I got to do to be called by the Speaker? Give him a blow job?"


Though it caused ructions in the UK, in Pakistan they liked David Cameron's remark that Britain is responsible for "so many of the world's problems" because it sounded like an apology.


Andrew Robothan, a Defence minister, has said sorry to the young Labour MP Stella Creasy for challenging her right to use a lift reserved for MPs because she did not look the part. But since he also accused her of "making a mountain out of a molehill", he is perhaps not all that sorry.