Leading article: Sorry – the easiest word

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron said sorry last week. His apology was refreshing, human – and completely calculating. It was designed to make Gordon Brown look as if he were continuing woodenly to deny the obvious. It was designed further to needle the Prime Minister, who, it is reported, became heated on this point with journalists on the plane to his meeting with President Barack Obama.

"What is it you think I should be apologising for?" Mr Brown is said to have demanded. "You don't understand it."

On this, Mr Brown deserves more support than he is given. The game of "say sorry" is one of the sillier devices used by the journalistic trade in its moments of herd mentality. Synthetic and insincere expressions of contrition do nothing to help understand the mistakes of the past, however much leading articles and pundits might declare that mistakes need to be acknowledged before they can be rectified.

And Mr Brown has admitted that mistakes were made, although he is choosy as to what some of those mistakes might have been. He does not accept, for instance, that the system of financial regulation that he set up when he made the Bank of England independent was structurally flawed. Most people differ, although it is difficult to know how much difference an alternative system would have made – a few billions at the margins, probably. And he cannot bring himself to admit that the promise to end boom and bust was a foolish phrase.

The serious question, however, is whether Mr Brown or Mr Cameron have the right policies to get unemployment and public debt back down again. Learning the lessons for banking regulation in order to mitigate the effects of future credit crunches is, frankly, a second- or third-order issue.

On this, Mr Cameron's apology offers us nothing. Last week he said sorry for failing to "say more about banking debt and corporate debt" before the crash. Well, it may be galling to him that Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, got it right and gained credibility as a result. But it has little bearing on the quality of policy for the future.

More relevant was Mr Cameron's first attempt to apologise, back in January. That was when the BBC interviewed him in his home, and the line to the studio went down just as he said: "I think I have made mistakes." When the line was restored he joked that the interruption was not caused by "one of my press officers outside chopping the cable at the key moment". The mistake to which he confessed on that occasion was his failure to see "just how unaffordable Labour's spending plans are".

That is the key point for the future, on the assumption that the bottom of the current downturn will have been reached in the months between now and the election. The question then ought to be: who will tell the truth about the tax rises and the spending cuts that will be needed to put the public finances back on a sustainable footing?

Politically, and whatever one thought of Tony Blair, the appearance of conversational honesty on television is a priceless asset. Mr Cameron reinforced his advantage over Mr Brown in this respect last week. It was clever to talk of his part in a "cosy economic consensus" which included this newspaper and just about everyone else in the country, with the exception of Mr Cable. But the Tory leader came no closer to spelling out the hard times ahead. And his positioning concealed how little he has to say about the present policy debate, which is focused on the G20 and Budget next month.

Yesterday's G20 pre-meeting did not go particularly well for the Government. Alistair Darling's efforts to reach agreement with other finance ministers in a West Sussex hotel were overshadowed by a news conference in Downing Street. Angela Merkel, the German leader, pointedly said that a further fiscal stimulus had to wait until we saw how the existing stimulus had worked. That was not what Mr Brown, standing next to her, wanted to hear in his earpiece from the simultaneous translator.

On this the Conservatives have little to say. They are sceptical about the VAT cut stimulus but are sensitive to the charge of wanting to "do nothing". Perhaps they can get away with "say nothing" – except sorry – for now, but they cannot escape hard choices for long.

Mr Cameron's apology underscores the electoral threat to Mr Brown's Government. But it takes the Conservatives no further on in setting out how they would deal with the five years after the next 14 months, in which taxes will have to be raised and public spending cut. Mr Cameron does not want to say either of those, so he has come up with the easiest word instead.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living