You can't apologise for what you do on purpose

You can say sorry for spilling a beer but Boris didn't publish this article by mistake
Click to follow

What is the point of apologies? Usually they make things worse, because the person giving the apology thinks it makes matters even. I bet the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima saw the mushroom cloud and went "Oo sorry." Then if he ever met anyone from the town who was cross with what he'd done, he went "I said sorry, now don't keep on about it."

There was no point in Boris Johnson apologising for the editorial in The Spectator attacking Scousers, because it performed the useful service of showing what counts as intellectual debate among Tories. For example, he wrote that Liverpool has "an excessive predilection for welfare". Which, translated from posh language is "You look in the dustbin for something to eat, you find a dead cat and you think it's a treat, in your Liverpool slums." Maybe Boris has sat in football crowds trying to persuade them to sing his version, but keeps being told "Sorry mate, predilection doesn't really scan."

And like most apologies, it was full of qualifications. The article referred to "more than 50 Liverpool football supporters" who died at Hillsborough, when the exact figure was 96. So Boris claimed the original number was "technically correct." Which I suppose it was. Just as a history teacher would be technically correct if he said "Today we're going to learn about something called the Second World War, in which more than 50 people were killed. And by the time it finished it had lasted more than half an hour."

Boris also said the incident showed "there are things you can get away with as a columnist that you can't say as a member of the Tory front bench". So it's alright to publish slanderous, inaccurate twaddle about entire towns as long as you're not in the Shadow Cabinet. This makes me want to look up his previous articles. Maybe there's one that goes "Isn't it time the people of Swindon finally paid compensation to America for organising the bombing of Pearl Harbour?" Or "We should stand up to Coventry and say we will no longer tolerate them eating 98 per cent of the world's fish."

You can apologise for spilling a beer or treading on someone's foot, because these are clumsy mistakes. But Boris didn't publish this article by mistake. He could have tried saying "I tell you what done it - mixing Guinness with tequila. One minute I was fine, then it all went blank and the next thing I've sent off a scurrilous editorial blaming drunk Liverpool fans for squashing themselves." But more likely is the article was a product of traditional Conservative snobbery.

Boris Johnson is MP for Henley-on-Thames. When he hears about poverty in Liverpool he probably thinks "Well why don't they take their minds off their troubles the way we do, and hold a regatta. After all they've got a blooming great river, they could cash in all their giros at once, chip in for a case of Pimm's and watch a couple of ferries race each other round the docks."

The articles defending him, and bemoaning the "sentimentality" that followed the death of Ken Bigley, were the product of traditional Conservative militarism. One columnist complained that the emotion displayed after Ken Bigley's death showed the British have lost the art of the "stiff-upper-lip." I thought it would continue "When I was in Borneo as part of Her Majesty's ninth regiment of perpendicular fusiliers, we often lightened up our leave with a joyful military pastime called "Who shall we kidnap, Moriarty". A selected colleague was blindfolded, bundled into a wagon and left in the jungle, resulting in much harmless fun and a welcome boost to morale. And if ever one of us was poisoned by scorpions, you didn't catch us showing weakness by holding a minute's silence."

Similarly, one article defending Boris claimed that at one point, during the Empire, Liverpool had been blessed with an "entrepreneurial spirit". In other words, they were alright when they were slave traders but then they lost their way. In a way this exposes the point about Liverpool or any other place, that there isn't one attitude flowing through everyone, but different approaches depending largely on which side of society you dwell in. When Liverpool was a slave port, I doubt that slaves and their traders all shared that classic Scouse humour.

In truth, Tories don't mind wallowing, it's the resisting that annoys them, from the Liverpool that campaigned against slavery during the American Civil War, to the strike in the docks in the 1990s. And when The Sun accused Liverpool fans of causing the Hillsborough disaster, there was a boycott that still operates throughout the city. Maybe now there'll be a boycott of The Spectator. Sales will plummet as families march into newsagents yelling "Ay, our kid's read dat editorial like in yer whaddya call it, yer Spectator like, an' as far as he's concerned it's a barrel o' shite so from now on we're stickin' to da New Internationalist."

And Boris is in a party that prides itself on promoting policies of law and order, in which the punishment should fit the crime. So Michael Howard should have arranged that for insulting and stereotyping Scousers, while he was in the radio station making his apology, a crowd of grubby skinny kids should have swiped his wheels and left his car balancing on piles of bricks.

Comments