In Britain this week we have had some classic examples of professional politics at work.
It was all to do with slurring the other side – one of the oldest tricks in the game.
Without going into too much detail, an aide in the Prime Minister’s office has just resigned/got pushed from his job because of a scandal involving spreading unfounded sexual rumours about members of the opposition party on a pro-Labour website.
It was amazing stuff really….schoolboy prurience with a smattering of sheer nastiness.
It was all about sexual diseases, adultery, that kind of thing, all untrue.
Well, that was the first bit of politics and no party is immune from it, no matter what they say in their high-minded public responses.
Then came the aftermath.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, sent a letter to all the injured parties saying that he “regretted” what had happened and that the political rules for political aides would be strengthened.
This was interpreted by the Conservative Party leadership as a touch too much of “Non je regrette rien.”
In other words, in the game of two halves that is politics, they realized it was their turn to win a round.
Regrets expressed in letters were just not good enough, they said. They wanted Gordon Brown to say “Sorry,” the magic word and they wanted him to say it in public.
Well, in come the political journalists, the third half in this mad illogical world.
Gordon Brown can’t say he is sorry, they jibbed.
So back to the Prime Minister.
He is a dour Scot, we all know that, and he just hates saying sorry, especially if he doesn’t think there is anything for him to say sorry about. Let’s be honest, it might be a boy thing too. It really has to be totally and plainly a major mistake, or at least a tactical advantage, before most guys really do find that word slipping through their lips.
Why else would Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way be named this week as the most played song at British funerals?
Well, the Conservatives were winning this one. He didn’t say he was sorry he only wrote a letter saying he regretted what had happened, so there, they say, he’s in the wrong.
Some countries are confused by our adversarial politics but, mostly, it is a shining beacon in a world of inequality. Only occasionally though, do we see the pathetically low levels of debate that result from these publicly conducted contests.
Well, senior ministers and lordly civil servants put their heads together.
“It looks like you will have to actually say that word, Prime Minister” they said, or might have said, or really did say but I don’t want to be accused of a slur here.
So yesterday, with great dignity and solemnity, not in a private letter, or even face to face with the injured parties, Gordon Brown announced it to the press and to the television cameras.
“I am sorry about what happened.”
Hurray! Yippee! Fantastic! The Prime Minister doesn’t only regret what happened but he is sorry about what happened too. A great victory for the Conservative party.
But hang on a minute.
Mr. Brown hasn’t quite finished…well, one of his problems is he doesn’t know quite where to put that full stop.
He adds at some length….”I have said all along that, when I saw this first,….etc. etc……blah blah blah.”
He did too but that is not the issue here. Politics is a game of tennis and, if you miss the ball you lose the point.
A “spokesman” for the Conservative party then came out, nearly as grandly as the Prime Minister and announced:
“It is good that Gordon Brown has apologized but he should have done it when this first emerged.”
Not to let an opportunity pass, the shadow chancellor, George Osborne popped up on the radio saying: “It’s come a little late, this apology. It’s a shame we had to ask for it.”
A shame? Methinks not Mr. Osborne. If you weren’t on the radio we would have seen your grin plainly enough. You know you won the point which was to stretch this news story out for as long as you could.
I thought I would consult my Chambers English Dictionary, usually reliable as far as the meaning of words is concerned.
Regret = to remember with sense of loss or feeling of having done wrong; to wish otherwise.
Sorry = Regretful; expressing pity, sympathy etc. apologetic.
Well, elections have to be won or lost and Opposition Parties need to do their job but over the splitting of hairs, please!
Reading on in my Chambers Dictionary, I see there is a further meaning for Sorry:
Sorry = poor, miserable, wretchedly bad, contemptible, worthless.
Now that is probably what the Conservatives wanted Gordon Brown to say:
“I am miserable, wretchedly bad, contemptible, worthless about what happened.”
For what it is worth, I think Mr. Brown obviously did regret/was sorry about what happened and that those slurred in those rogue emails deserved those letters of apology.
He probably does have a problem saying sorry too.
But what is really sorry about these proceedings is the wretchedly bad, contemptible and worthless posturing that it revealed at the heart of our democratic political parties.
Come on, for all our sakes, say sorry, shake hands and get on with your real jobs.
To move quickly away from that bad smell of politicians, I have written a poem about a more fragrant subject. I hope that, when Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron go home to their beds, they are reminded of nobler things than point scoring, exemplified as far as I can see, by Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cameron.
A full diary
A glass to clink.
A table for two
A double room
A warning look
A second opinion
A guiding hand
Of that first unstoppable rush.
Before I leave you, I can’t let you go without the great Edith Piaf herself, now if Gordon Brown could sing like this, he might have got away without an apology.