Not so much an apology, more a tabloid PR stunt stunt

Share
Related Topics
LOVE, according to the bestselling novelist Erich Segal, means never having to say you're sorry. Politicians frequently give the impression that they've adapted this dictum for their own use, substituting the word "power" for love. John Major's government, to its everlasting discredit, never apologised for anything. Tony Blair hasn't done much better, going on television during the Formula One affair in November to apologise, not for his policy on tobacco advertising, but for its presentation.

It was hardly a good start, but I don't think any of us guessed what Mr Blair's spin-doctors had up their sleeves. That was revealed only last week, when Japan's Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, acting on advice from Mr Blair's aides, finally said sorry for his country's war record. Mr Hashimoto offered his apology, not through the usual diplomatic channels, but in an article in the Sun.

New Labour has ushered in, in other words, the age of the privatised apology. There are precedents for this development, in those confessional articles in Hello! magazine in which movie stars publicly admit to alcoholism or sex addiction, but Mr Hashimoto's venture into British tabloid journalism is a first for a world leader. And it inevitably raises questions, including the obvious one of to whom the apology is addressed.

The British survivors of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps have waited for many years, with quiet dignity, for an acknowledgement of their suffering. Is Mr Hashimoto's article intended only for former PoWs who read the Sun? Why should survivors have to buy a copy to receive a belated apology for the atrocities committed against them? And isn't Mr Blair, as the country's elected leader, a more appropriate conduit for such a weighty communication than a newspaper whose chief preoccupations are lottery numbers and women with large breasts?

On Friday, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Blair's chief press secretary, Alastair Campbell, admitted his part in the placing of the article and revealed that he advised the Japanese "about the Sun, its style, and the way such an article might be expressed". Mr Campbell is a former tabloid journalist and knows the argot of his previous profession well. Even so, the mind boggles at the prospect of his trying to explain to Mr Hashimoto that phrases such as "Hey, guys, sorry about the torture!" might go down a treat.

But the most startling admission in the letter is that "the idea for the article came from the Sun's political editor in a discussion with me about Japan's desire to improve its United Kingdom media relations". There could hardly be a clearer acknowledgement that the "apology" - I think the quotation marks are justified - is merely an attempt to improve Japan's image, with the forthcoming state visit by Emperor Akihito (in May) very much in mind.

Not so much an apology, more a PR stunt. And so very New Labour in its language - Tony Blair is "a new star on the world stage", gushes Mr Hashimoto - and its presentation. Never mind the policy, so sorry about its effect on public opinion.

MR HASHIMOTO is, according to reports last week, an Anglophile who admires the "John Bull spirit". His Sun article mentions his love of Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes, and his boyhood admiration for Darwin and Livingstone. He is also a former Boy Scout, which gave rise to a bizarre detail in Mr Campbell's letter: the information that Tony Blair's flight from Tokyo was kept waiting for 20 minutes because "we were waiting for [Mr Hashimoto's] thoughts on Lord Baden-Powell".

For obvious reasons, I was never a Boy Scout, and I managed to get thrown out of the Brownies at the age of nine. But I have long taken an interest in Lord Baden-Powell's writings and I own a copy of that seminal work Girl Guiding: The Official Handbook, first published in 1918. I recommend it to Mr Hashimoto and anyone else who retains a nostalgic fondness for the kind of Englishness Lord Baden-Powell continues to represent, surprisingly, in the minds of many foreigners.

"Then there are our friends the Japanese," Baden-Powell observes in a section entitled "Health Rules". "They are very small but very brave and strong. Like the Ghoorkas[sic] they make splendid soldiers." So far, so good, but here comes a passage which might make Mr Hashimoto and other Japanese readers cringe: "The Japs are very careful as to what they eat, and they keep themselves very clean with lots of washing and they go through exercises for their body every day which make them tremendously strong. And they keep themselves smiling and good-tempered, which also helps to keep them healthy."

There is no avoiding the fact, though, that the Japanese are - well, people of restricted growth, to use a contemporary phrase. "I am sure," writes Baden-Powell, "that every Brownie would like to make herself strong and healthy. But she can also do more than the Jap or the Ghoorka can do, for she can help herself not only to become strong but to grow big if she tries." I'm not sure whether the accompanying illustration, a sketch of a slanty-eyed chap in shorts with a rifle over his shoulder, is meant to show a Japanese soldier or a "Ghoorka". But, as Baden-Powell's caption assures us: "They are splendid fellows."

WHAT is it about New Labour and airports? A few days before Mr Blair and his entourage were delayed at Tokyo, breathlessly waiting for Mr Hashimoto's views on first-aid badges and woodcraft, his Foreign Secretary chose Edinburgh airport as the venue to announce his engagement to Gaynor Regan. Following so quickly on the revelation that he had told his wife Margaret at Heathrowthat he was leaving her, I can't help wondering whether Mr Cook isn't taking those "Something to Declare" signs rather literally. He now finds himself in the bothersome position of having both a wife and a fiancee, which suggests an over-enthusiastic commitment to the institution of marriage. It also has to be said that, of the two women involved, the present Mrs Cook appears much the happier. I wouldn't be surprised, after seeing pictures of a glum-looking Mrs Regan splashed across the front pages, if she were to develop a sudden and incurable fear of flying. As far as travelling with Mr Cook is concerned, that is.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee