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?”