I’ve got something irritating buzzing round my head at the moment and it won’t go away. Nick Clegg just keeps singing, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so , sorry”. If you don’t know what I’m on about, you really need to watch the video at the end of this post and it will all make sense.
So, Nick finally came out this week and said sorry for breaking his promise to not increase tuition fees in this YouTube broadcast.
Well no, actually he didn’t. He just said sorry for making a promise he never was going to be able to keep unless his party won a majority at the last general election. And the chances of that happening were about as big as those of Southampton winning the Premier League this season, i.e. zero.
Despite most of the Liberal Democrat leadership getting behind Clegg and admitting they should take some of the blame too and trying to put a positive spin on it, the general reaction towards his mea culpa moment has expectedly been mixed ranging from contempt to praise.
All this therefore brings me to my question for today: “Is it possible for politicians to genuinely say sorry?” Can you think of an occasion when a politician has apologised for something they’ve done without trying to fudge it? It’s rare enough to hear the word ‘sorry’ actually coming from a politicians lips, so rare in fact that it takes us by surprise when it does happen. It’s much more common to watch them try to pass the blame onto someone else. Alternatively they wrap up a potential apology in such convoluted wording that in the end you’re left believing they weren’t actually intending to say sorry at all.
It’s a sad state of affairs that our political culture makes apologising so difficult. It’s almost as if it’s seen as a sign of weakness and failure. There’s something stirringly hopeful in what Clegg has done even though it’s hard to tell if was actually genuine in the limited and clumsy apology he gave. He’s looking for forgiveness for the (big) mistake his party made over tuition fees and a chance to move on without it constantly hanging over him.
I admire Clegg’s willingness to admit his fallibility especially when it’s reported that his party advisors told him not to go ahead with it. If Clegg’s diving popularity is stabilised by this or even shows a mild improvement thanks to his autotuned remix on YouTube along with any benefit to charity through the forthcoming single, then maybe it will send a message to politicians that the British public actually can be forgiving when politicians act more like the rest of us and admit that they do get things wrong.
For Christians saying sorry and giving and recieving forgiveness is a core part of our make-up. We know that we get things wrong and that we need to admit our failings and repent when we do. The Bible is absolutely full of this stuff and for good reason too. In 1 John 1 it’s written that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
That truth recognises that we’re not perfect and don’t have all the answers. When we ignore it, we can easily get conceited and think we know best without questioning ourselves, displaying an arrogance where we’re happy to criticise others, but not willing to accept criticism pointed in our direction. In doing so we alienate people and lose their trust and respect.
Our political system desperately needs an injection of trust and respect between the political classes and the public. As long as ‘sorry’ remains one of the hardest words for our politicians to utter, trust and respect are sadly going to remain in short supply to everyone’s detriment.