Never apologise, never explain

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TRULY, a remarkable week, a septem dies mirabilis. First, England beating the West Indies in a test match at Lord's; then Hugh Grant's spectacular fall from his remorselessly extended state of public grace; next, John Major giving a stirring impression of a stand-up comic in the House of Commons; and, now, sensational news from Auckland. The Queen, as we report on Page One, is to apologise. A New Zealand act of parliament acknowledging the theft by Britain of Maori land will shortly be given the royal assent and signed by her in London. We hope she knows what she is doing. The long retreat from the divine right to rule, marked by such signposts as 1688, 1936, Royal It's A Knockout, Budgie the helicopter and the decision to pay taxes, has left but few perks; and the greatest of them was surely that being Queen meant never having to say sorry. Indeed, it is hard to think of any sort of royal apology since Henry II did penance for ordering the death of Beckett.

Traditionalists will feel a sense of loss; we can't help wondering where it is all going to end. Because the trouble with saying sorry is that, once you have started, it's difficult to know where to stop. And there is quite a bit of apologising to do. What, for example, about Bannockburn? Or Flodden? Wales? Ireland? Those American colonists made to pay taxes without representation? The indigenes of Australia, India, Africa and North America? Then there was that unfortunate incident with Joan of Arc, the faggots and the matches, the little contretemps with the pillows and the princes in the tower, and any number of distinctly dodgy executions. No, Her Majesty has, yet again, been poorly advised. But it would be nice if someone apologised for Royal It's A Knockout.

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