ISMISMNew concepts for the Nineties; No. 23: grovelism

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It has been the week of the grovel. Seldom has that rule of politics "never apologise, never explain" been so comprehensively scuppered. This is partly the fault of John Major. Thanks to him, the politicians who supported the wrong candidate had to swallow their words. There was a particular pleasure to be had in watching so many Conservative politicians imitating the behaviour of Bolsheviks when they too confessed that their admiration for the great leader was immortal, even if their lives were about to end.

But that is only the start of the chain. The political correspondents who confidently predicted that the man was finished had to explain to their editors why they got it wrong. Those leader writers who called for Mr Major's head had to explain to their readers why the advice of the newspaper was not taken. And the editors had to explain to their foreign proprietors why, just occasionally, the views of Tory MPs might differ from those of millionaire newspaper owners.

But if grovelism has been pretty rare in politics (and even rarer in the press), politicians are fast learners. Their trick has been to adapt the various gradations of grovel from professions more experienced in the craft, in particular the sport and entertainment industries - gradations that range from the abject grovel (Hugh Grant's moment of insanity) to the minimalist version (Mike Atherton blaming it all on the pitch).

Towards the Hugh Grant end of the scale came the comment from the Daily Telegraph: "Painful though it may be to admit as much," the MPs' decision would "force a brief spell of humility upon the scribblers". Among MPs, Norman Lamont, not noted for any spell of humility, managed a fair degree of Grantism by declaring the victory "a clear win" and urging the party to unite. Most Redwood supporters chose the middle-of-the-pack grovel, while only a handful, like Graham Riddick, chose the minimalist version, commenting: "He just scraped in by the skin of his teeth." Given that his previous grovelling has involved explaining his cash-for-questions episode, maybe he felt that two exercises in Grantism a year would be de trop.

That may be unwise. The most important lesson of the week has been that the grovel, far from being principally a defensive weapon, can be an effective method of attack. The more abject the grovel, the greater the impact. Grantism will make a triumph of Hugh Grant's new film, turning the actor into part of our national heritage. Bottomleyism (never apologise, explain again-and-again-and-again-until-they-reach-for-their-revolvers) will do a lot less for the National Heritage Department.

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