Gordon Brown should apologise.

Got your attention? Hope so.

Over the last few weeks, conservative politicians and the journalists that seek to curry favour with them have been focussing on a demand that Gordon Brown apologise.

They do this for two reasons. First, a debate around “apology” keeps the focus on the past, rather than on the future, and the Conservative party is much more comfortable talking about the past (where they can claim to be entirely innocent of any responsibility) than about the future, where their proposals will be part of a battle of ideas, and (I believe) will be found wanting.

The second reason the Conservatives find it helpful to focus on Gordon Brown’s personal responsibility is that they wish to paint the Prime Minister as a man more concerned with his own image than the state of the country, a man who refuses to admit faults and so cannot change strategy, a man who is self regarding and out of touch.

Putting the political focus on the question of whether a Prime Minister should apologise for past mistakes is a smart political trap to set. Admit to mistakes and you are culpable for all that is wrong with the world, refuse to admit to them and you seem arrogant and self regarding.

So how to deal with this question – which will be a recurring theme if not dealt with?

First, we need to recognise the trap for what it is, rhetorically speaking. The “Why won’t you apologise” question is intended to put you in an impossible position, and then keep the political focus on your painful attempts to escape from it, preventing you from moving the focus on what you would rather discuss – the future.

So the only way out is to make the trap work for you, to expose the demand for the political maneouveure it is, then move yurself onto higher ground, where you can debate from a position of strength.

So I suggest a response along these lines:

“The Leader of the opposition is very keen on apologies.

“I can understand his hunger. We’re both politicians, so we both know that Conservative Headquarters are desperate to spend the millions they’ve raised from City finance houses on billboards, leaflets, press releases that will churn out the Tory message, and for that they need a story. This makes a good story, so the PR men tell me.”

“The Leader of the opposition knows that whatever I say, he will continue to blame me. Fair enough. that’s his job.

“Why he needs me to agree with him, I don’t know, but it seems important to him.

“The sad thing is, this positioning for political advantage crowds out the only chance we have for a real debate about what we should do.

“It means we don’t talk about our differing plans for recovery.

“It means we don’t talk about how we help families.

“It means we don’t talk about the need to stimulate demand, support companies and invest in new technologies.

“So let’s put a stop to that right now.

“When Lehman Brothers chose to pay their executives billions in bonuses for pursuing risky strategies? Fine, That was my fault.

“When American mortgage companies chose to create CDOs for sub prime mortagages and market the mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them? OK, That was my fault.

“Most important of all, I want to be clear that the incredible growth in the complexity and scale of the global credit markets was entirely my fault. It was all down to me and no-one else”

“In fact, everything wrong with the entire Global economy, from the United States mortgage market to the collapse in Eastern European currency values, from the fall in the price of oil to the shrinkage of the lobal shipping trade – all of it was my fault.

“There. Now the leader of the opposition has his quotes for his leaflets. He has his quotes for his election broadcasts. He doesn’t need to worry about that any more.”

“So now let’s get on with talking about what really matters – what we’re going to do to help British families and companies.

We can start with his economics teams belief that now is the wrong time to invest in technology, the wrong time to build for the future and the wrong time to put money in the pockets of families that have got mortgages to pay and bills to meet. Does he really think reducing demand now will help the economy to recover?”

15 Responses to “Gordon Brown should apologise.”

  1. Chris

    Sarcasm is always a really, really, really good idea because it can never be misinterpreted by idiots or twisted by the unscrupulous, and nobody ever disarms its use by making a quip about it being the lowest form of wit.

    (You haven’t been watching Babylon 5 recently, have you? Series 2 Episode 22 The Fall of Night?)

    Reply
  2. Tom Freeman

    My first reaction was to think this was a very neat idea. My second was the mental image of ‘Sarcastic Brown treats recession as joke’ headlines…

    Reply
  3. hopisen

    Chris, Tom – Depends how you do it – in an article you’d have to be more logical and ecidential than the above, going through the crisies in more detail, then saying that if it helps move the bate on that you’re fully prepared to accept the blame for all of that, and more.

    In the Commons, you’d have to be “more in sorrow”, talking seriously rather than aggressively.

    I might not have correctly judged that tone in the blog post, in that the impression shold be “I see what you’re trying to do. Fine. Here’s what happened across the world. If you want I’ll shoulder the blame for all of that, but for god’s sake let’s talk about what needs t be done, because that’s the debate we need to have”

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  4. CC

    “Here’s what happened across the world. If you want I’ll shoulder the blame for all of that.”

    So you want to change the approach from “I saved the world” to “I’m Jesus Christ”?

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  5. David Boothroyd

    The word ‘apology’ is typically used now to mean a statement of regret for actions the speaker regards, in hindsight, as mistaken. However, this was not its original meaning, which was a statement defending actions that have been criticized but which the speaker wishes to stand by.

    I think Gordon Brown should go back to traditional English meanings when he apologizes.

    Reply
  6. newmania

    If Gordon Brown is desperate to have a debate about what we should be doing why does he not have one ?
    If he wishes to spend a lot of money of fiddling with demand ( Not the problem) , then isn’t it a shame we haven’t got any ?
    If he did not understand or cause the bust , why did he take credit for the boom ?

    In any case Hopi , New Labour were already out before all this started for a variety of ordinary reasons . Realistically its all over for Brown . Tax is the future , cuts are the future and Conservatives are talking about them. Its no good saying look can we just forget the past , Labour have to go the electorate on their record and I`m not sure you can brag about how much you have spent when it becomes clearer every day that it would have been better not to .
    If I were the Labour Party I would be in survival mode I would ferment class hatred threaten the Public sector with Tory cuts add in some more pointless( but satisfying) taxes on the rich etc.
    Where you were good was at picking at the Conservative incursion into red home ground . You cannot claim to be caring and sharing and at the same time express horror at over spend . That is the weakness of Cameron’s case IMHO
    I`d cook up that brew , forget winning and work on a new new Labour Party for when the Conservatives have sorted out the mess.

    Reply
  7. labourboy

    Hopi, have you seen that on Thursday there was a plenary debate in the EU (how could you miss it?!) about reducing VAT?

    http://labourboy.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/eu-meps-call-for-vat-cuts-across-europe/

    There was a call for reducing VAT in certain things. I don’t know enough about the EU website or how it works to know if there was a formal vote or to find the transcript – you said you enjoy people leaving comments – do you have any ideas on how to find it?

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  8. labourboy

    Cheers Hopi, after finding some more text on a link on the link you gave me, I can’t figure out if they called for reduced VAT or just changing the wording around a little. Both are suggested in different parts of the website! Oh well!

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  9. Bardirect

    Why apologise?

    Simply continue with the scorched earth policies of the last 5 years, and make increasing the burden on the dwindling number of taxpayers the top priority.

    The civil and other public services employees votes are already bought. The people who pay the bills are outnumbered by those who receive the dosh.

    Get their vote out. Sorted.

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  10. john

    I thought everyone knew by now that New Labour don’t do resignations or apologies.

    Reply
  11. Shamik Das

    Do you think he should apologise for doing a runner whenever Tony Blair was in trouble?

    There’s more chance of Hell freezing over than there is of Gordon ever apologising for anything.

    Reply

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