Cameron is adept at the art of apology, so why doesn't he give one to India?

Many Indians feel that Britain's outrages during the colonial era have never been fully admitted, never mind taken responsibility for

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron really likes apologising for things that aren’t his fault. As children, this is a move many of us deployed in underhand efforts to win familial arguments, and I can see why he likes it. Whether over Christmas dinner or in the House of Commons, it’s a perfect rhetorical gesture: you get to look statesmanlike, soothing, compassionate, and open-minded at the same time as surreptitiously laying the blame at someone else’s door.

Consider his statement on Bloody Sunday – admirable and necessary, certainly, but no less effective a piece of politics for that, and featuring the conspicuous observation that for someone of his generation, that era was something “learned about rather than lived through”. That speech won near-universal plaudits; for the Prime Minister, there was no significant downside. There are few meaningful decisions he will take in office that could carry that label, and when they come along, it’s unsurprising that he would jump at them without hesitation.

He won’t do it in India today, though, despite what looks like an open goal of an opportunity to do so. Many Indians feel, with obvious justification, that they are owed an apology for some of the outrages of the colonial era, not least the Amritsar massacre of 1919, where at least 400 peaceful protesters died; meanwhile, Cameron is trying embarrassingly hard to win favour with a global economic player. The rationale, both political and humanitarian, seems clear. But while the Prime Minister will express his regrets, he will stop short of an apology: the kind of semantic distinction that seems utterly irrelevant in real life, and even in politics, until someone is willing to articulate one and not the other.

The depths of the realpolitik at work here – and the calculus that deems one massacre in Northern Ireland worth saying sorry for, and another in India not – are beyond me. There is presumably a finely honed diplomatic memo that explains it very clearly. Still, coming the day after Cameron leapt – along with Ed Miliband – so eagerly and unthinkingly on the bandwagon aimed at Hilary Mantel, it does gall a bit. In one instance, a fiercely intelligent and deliberately misunderstood woman has been instantly traduced by our leaders for daring to make a subtle point without undue concern for the political consequences; in another, a country has been kept waiting for an apology that it has been owed for the best part of a hundred years, and this despite the obvious fact that everyone concerned understands quite how profoundly it is needed.

The explanation, I’m afraid, is that one entails an easy political win, the other an unpredictable political headache. But to mean something, an apology has to cost something: in the circumstances, we are entitled to ask whether we can really trust these ‘regrets’ at all. And we might offer David Cameron a modified version of the admonition our parents gave us: don’t apologise if you don’t really mean it. But also, don’t withhold an apology if you really do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup