Is this why politicians don’t apologise?

I keep listening to politicians on the radio (rarely watching them on TV) and am amazed, in some ways, that they don’t clear the air and apologise for having cocked some things up in their handling of the coronavirus outbreak. It would be surprising if everything had been perfect so why not admit it.

There are a variety of potential explanations:

  1. All politicians are lying craven bastards who cannot tell the truth about anything – this is not my experience, but it’s worth having in the list.
  2. Our politicians have a bunch of young spin doctors who keep saying ‘Never explain, never apologise‘ in their ears and they are too spineless to ignore this advice – this might be part of the answer but surely there must be some crotchety old person around who says ‘Apologise and move on – it’s the right thing to do and the best thing to do‘.
  3. Our politicians are protecting others – perhaps the civil servants, perhaps their own political advisors or perhaps their colleagues. It would be very difficult, given collective responsibility, for one minister to say ‘Yes, we clearly cocked up but it wasn’t me, but I am sorry‘. I’ll come back to this one.
  4. Our politicians honestly think they’ve played a blinder and everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds and we should be heaping praise on them. Given some of the egos involved, this is remotely possible, but the possibility is remote.
  5. Our politicians know they’ve cocked up badly but think that they can get away with it through ignoring it and denial – perhaps some other crisis will come along to make us forget this one, and with any luck we’ll be able to blame it on someone else.
  6. Our politicians are being told by government lawyers that any admission of any sort of fault will result in so many legal cases that government will be paying out billions for years. Is this right, I wonder?

I don’t know but it feels like our politicians are digging themselves ever deeper into a hole. So let’s go back to 3 above. It could be that the Cabinet is protecting duff advice from civil servants (that is what they are supposed to do in many ways), or from political advisors (less admirable) or maybe duff decisions by colleagues. It really isn’t for a junior minister in charge of football and computer games to appologise for what the Health Secretary did or didn’t do – if, hypothetically, they were at fault. No, it would be up to the Health Secretary to do that. But what would be the consequence if the Health Secretary said, today, ‘I made a bunch of duff decisions that have cost hundreds, probably thousands, of lives and I’m sorry. I’ll resign in a while but right now there is no-one better to put things right than I am so, sorry, you’re stuck with me for a few more weeks‘? I can’t see that going down very well, even though, how should I know, perhaps the Health Secretary is, for now, the very best person to get things right in future.

But there is an alternative scenario, entirely hypothetical, that the Health Secretary didn’t make a load of duff decisions, but someone higher up the chain of command did. That would be the Prime Minister, in this hypothetical scenario. Now, the Prime Minister certainly doesn’t seem to have played a blinder on this subject and just because he got COVID-19 doesn’t mean he is a hero (see Ralph’s cartoon). Now the Prime Minister isn’t around, he is convalescing at Chequers and Dominic Raab is in charge. Dominic Raab would find it difficult to say, ‘We cocked it up and it wasn’t Matt Hancock, it was the Prime Minister‘ so that isn’t going to happen. And until the Prime Minister returns to face the media no-one can ask him about this. So, in this hypothetical situation, no-one can apologise until Boris comes back.

Or, it could be Option 1 all along, or some version of the others.

I suspect we will eventually find out.


31 Replies to “Is this why politicians don’t apologise?”

  1. I doubt we will ever find out. I suspect #1 about the GOVERNMENT, not about all politicians……And yes, I agree that they are digging themselves deeper into a hole Theer was excellent comment from Andy Burnham on PM this evening, about the country needing to set up a group, comprising politicians, metro mayors, business/health leaders and otehrs to lead on the rational way otu of this mess………It wouldnt have mattered who said that, it is the most sensible thing I have heard this week so far………

    1. Andy Burnham would say that, another quango so he can draw another pay packet, there is no simple answers to this pandemic and playing the blame game isn’t going to change that, I am pretty sure that in the job description for prime minister you won’t find a line saying don’t forget to order PPE for the NHS, l am also sure each region will have their own procurement manager, etc

      1. Merlin – I’m pretty sure that you won’t find a line saying don’t forget to order PPE for the NHS in the PM’s job description because there doesn’t appear to be a job description. If there were, it might say something about keeping your eye on the ball though. And it might point out that yours is the ultimate responsibility.

        1. ultimate responsibility can only apply to things you have complete control over, Mark you used the phrase” keeping your eye on the ball”, you remind me of the football fans I talk to in the local, they always blame the manager, he can put his best team out but if the result doesn’t go their way its his fault not the team’s. I believe the manager is only partially responsible. taking this further if the crowd invade the pitch and the game is postponed with the result standing in my mind the manager takes none of the responsibility.
          Now if the government says everyone has to stay indoors and social distance and the following day there are crowds on the tube station and the following weekend there are crowds mulling together in local parks and on beaches then to my mind the government can’t be held responsible despite what the left wing media say

          1. merlin – I wonder whether you have ever had a large job – legendary wizards often haven’t. If you are in charge, then you have to do the best with the shit that’s thrown at you. And you will be judged on your performance.

            Your second paragraph is laughable – ha ha ha ha!


      2. Whatever Andy Burnham’s motivation is for setting up a panel of politicians, business and health leaders etc to help plan our ongoing response to the crisis, I am confident that it was not to be able to draw another pay packet. You can argue as to whether such a committee would help or hinder but as you say there are no simple answers and whatever approaches are taken will have differing costs and benefits for different sections of the community and so having input from a broad range of expertise seems sensible to me.

        1. Well said.

          I think we can be confident in the fact that if money was Andy Burnham’s primary motivation he wouldn’t be the Mayor of Manchester. He could easily earn at least twice his current salary in the private sector, and without giving 15% of his salary to charity either.

          Ascribing someone’s motivations as financial always seems to be route one for the lazy thinker.

          1. The government, a broad range of elected people from different regions and back grounds are already in talks with business and health leaders, the only group missing are the metro mayor’s, ok wrong about the pay packet more about self promotion

          2. Given the powers granted to the Metro Mayors and the strategic responsibilities involved in the role, I would expect them to play a central part in the coordination of an exit strategy for their areas. Andy Burnham for instance has direct control over a budget of around £8 billion for health and social care in Greater Manchester.

            Personally I would consider it a dereliction of his duty of office not to seek to play a pivotal role.

            Or you could choose to call it self-promotion.

            I suppose its all about world-view.

  2. In the case of Hancock, the answer is undoubtedly number one. Like his boss, a bare-faced liar.

  3. ‘All politicians are lying craven bastards who cannot tell the truth about anything – this is not my experience, but it’s worth having in the list.’
    There is an alternative option to this.
    ‘Politicians who get into positions of power are lying craven bastards who cannot tell the truth about anything.’
    That would fit just about all of them.
    Corbyn was the exception and look what happened to him. Crucified by his own party.

  4. First, define your cock-up. There are quite a few on offer.

    Possibly the most important is how, despite pandemic being top of every risk assessment over the last decade, it somehow stopped being really treated as that. That’s quite a hard question and though I suspect it has quite a lot to do with the governments we have actually had, it may also have something more general to do with the way the UK is governed.

    Then, aside from that, there is the slightly more specific question about the failure of actual preparation from the beginning of the year onwards. In retrospect that may seem to be the worst offence committed, a crime even, and the answer, so far as it is presently known, does few participants, civil servants or Ministers, much credit. There is a tale to be told, a lesson to be learned, and it would not surprise me if government scientists came out of it quite badly. But equally, that would be unfair because of the relatively long recent history of the placing of science in government. Like the first question it strikes quite hard at how in practice we govern ourselves.

    Then there are more immediate matters and only here do I feel slightly more forgiving. Michael Gove, at least, has said ‘governments always make mistakes’ which is not the same as apologising for mistakes that have been made but it is an admission of frailty that would be welcome from others. Ministers lined up to do the briefing do have to deal with the actuality and it’s not abundantly clear how you deal with, say, the stresses in provisioning PPE. Though blaming NHS workers for being profligate with it is not perhaps the wisest of lines to take.

    The role of the press has been interesting too. Public support for the government is very strong, and I guess the press respond to that in subscribing to a ‘now is not the time’. But have they been disemboldened? Piers Morgan seems to be having something of a revival these days, even amongst those who despised him. But I wonder if it is based only on his skills in finding questions to which there is no present answer. Thus perhaps suggesting the poverty of currnent political dialogue in the UK. As may be confirmed, even here, by the number of votes for your no 1 explanation above.

  5. Because if they ever admit to the public that they were in the wrong, then we filthy proles might start expecting them to represent us instead of using us as the means to gain the position to which they feel they are naturally entitled to. Tories want to rule, not to govern. They certainly never want to actually serve the public, except in the limited capacity that they and their cronies are in the loosest possible sense a part of the public. They need us for their positions, but they do not want us realising that, and that is why they never actually apologise.

  6. I’m sure this can’t be true of any of the readers of this blog but… as a nation I often think we get the politicians we deserve.

    We don’t elect people who tell us truths we don’t want to hear. Like “If you really want a better NHS you’ll have to pay more tax for it” . Or ” we can build bypasses till you’re blue in the face but there will still be traffic jams”.

    Too many people want simple answers to complex questions, don’t respect actual knowledge or data, and are suckers for a slogan. Even though everyone knew the £350m was a lie it still worked.

    There’s an obvious attraction to hearing what you want to hear. I’m aware of the trap but I’m sure I’m still guilty sometimes.

    We don’t necessarily get the politicians we need because we get the politicians we choose.

    1. JBC

      One of the most lucid and accurate reply’s I’ve seen on here!
      A large proportion of the electorate voted for a party led by a man who is a proven liar, dislikes detail, spouts meaningless slogans, makes decisions based on what he thinks is best for his ambitions and has relied on charm, bluster and vague promises to advance himself.
      Just the sort of person we need to lead the country in a crisis!

      1. You forgot to mention the fact that he has a tendency to ‘disappear’ when things start getting rough! I have a feeling that Boris is in no hurry to get back in the saddle and take over the reins again. But I am a cynic.

    2. Here here. The grotesqueries of US politics, exemplified by Trump, are a good example of this but the same applies here.

  7. But, we carry on letting them get away with it all (whatever the issue is) and we allow them to award themselves handsomely for it.

    The current system needs to change and until it does then sadly I fear we can expect more of the same.

    There is a seriously long way to go before any of them will do the right thing for society, communities and the environment. Business is at the front as usual pushing for a return to economics in the driving seat – oh I do so hope enough people have woken up to the reality of the utter mess a ‘market place economy’ / Neo-liberal agenda has created.

    Rant over, take care and stay safe 🙂

  8. Minister of computer games and football…it’s a nice bit of rhetoric but made me think. I wondered if many, many more people interested in, and money involved, in those two matters, not that governments take much interest highlighted by ministerial positions than some of the more prestigious positions. The ministry of agriculture perhaps?

    Senior politicians have chums in farming, law, business but not in football or computer games.

    We might hear more from the minister for computer games and football as the purchase of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund proceeds.

  9. They lie and will not go back and apologise when they get it wrong and we realise it. Why its an admission of weakness, which they think will weaken them permanently. They thought Covid would be a minor thing and despite the warning did not prepare properly or get the scientists on board, they were more concerned with Brexit. They are also the party of starving the NHS via austerity for years, underfunded, under valued by a Tory elite, which probably mainly uses private medicine.
    Frankly they are not of a standard of politician we need they are Boris’s pick after all and he is a lying opportunist shit who in reality isn’t fit to be milk monitor.

      1. I thought if anything it was under done. I didn’t especially like the Blair government, we voted for democratic socialism and got neo liberalist populism. Our schools and hospitals are still paying the price of public-private finance deals, and of course there was the Iraq War. However they were fairly efficient in government and got the job done.
        Cameron also was moderately efficient even though the policies were to my mind awful. The unforgiveable was the referendum to keep the right quiescent and then letting the Luddites win it. May was never any good but she tried. This lot are woeful, got in on the basis of Brexit, sold to the electorate with a pack of lies, lies about the opposition and no real detail. Boris is a charlatan, I blame “Have I got News for you”, Hislop claims they gave him a hard time but he had a national platform for the first time. He has surrounded himself with like lightweight minds, who only do what’s good for themselves. Yes this is an near overwhelming crisis but they should have prepared much better, followed the science, tested and traced. Look at Germany, no advantage of a sea border, proper preparation, testing, testing, testing and tracing, much lower death rate and far fewer cases. Our lot like a load of headless chickens, clueless floundering, many thousands of deaths more as a result. A criminal lack of PPE for our critical services ( we have two in the family), criticised, they should be where they belong. They are unemployable unrepentant shits the lot of them who should be banned from decent company for life. Rant over.

          1. Don’t worry, I’m sure which ever MI6 drone was assigned to do it has themselves been beheaded in the war they sought to propagate.

    1. They think it is a greater sin to admit a failing than it is to fail in the first place. Just look at Theresa May’s response to the ever growing evidence that Brexit is self harm on a national scale, she said that admitting it was wrong would embarrass Britain. That was her whole thing on not reversing it right when it would have been easiest to do so, that admitting we were wrong would be embarrassing. There is nothing wrong with admitting to a failing, and we need to start teaching kids (at Eton too) that at school.

  10. I wondered if corruption has anything to do with why politicians wont/cant aplogise. Involvement with private medical companies, big Pharma, banks and corporations, selling off the NHS, voting against pay rises for NHS staff, the revolving door for jobs.It’s more like a crime family than a government. Would you expect the Sopranos to apologise?

      1. You sound Filbert if I may say so much like my late friend Kirtap Snoyl, ( reverse of course of his real name) Whose Snoylian Concept says that every “ism” has within it the seeds of its own destruction. Although long gone he is still much missed by those who’s lives he touched.

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