I doubt I’m the only one who breathed a sigh of relief when Andrew Mitchell finally resigned on Friday. Yet again we have had to endure a drawn out and painful saga where the end was pretty much inevitable and yet those at the centre continued to cling on with their fingertips for as long as they could until the reality of the situation left no alternative. Even today during an interview David Cameron was still defending Mitchell. There is something to be said for not sacking people immediately especially if the facts are unclear. Can you imagine how disastrous it would be for most businesses if employees were dismissed at the rate government ministers tend to be? If staff are sacked too readily it leads to instability and crushes morale.
Things are and always have been different in Government though and when a political story like this fails to die, there needs to be some remedial action. Cameron in his interview inadvertently mentioned the one thing that possibly could have saved Mitchell from the fate that befell him. “I thought the right thing to do was make sure there was a proper apology,” he said. The Prime Minister might have considered the apology to be a proper one, but many people would disagree with that view.
If Andrew Mitchell had come away from his swearing tirade the following day, put his hands up and explained what he had actually said along with a sincere apology then he might have been able to come away from the incident with some respect. By failing to honestly explain what really happened, he left himself open to ongoing criticism that was then constantly defended in the same cack-handed way. My feeling is that he was worried about admitting to having used the word ‘pleb’ because of the fear of the damage it would do to himself and the party. However I am sure most people believe that he said it anyway and effectively accusing a policeman of lying isn’t going to win people over to your side in this sort of situation.
Most of us say things we later regret and a display of genuine humility might have earned Mitchell just enough favour to keep his job. He might still have ended up having to resign if that had been his approach, but at least he could have retained some integrity if that had been the case. As it says in Proverbs 28:13,
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
On the same day that Mitchell fell on his sword another Tory was making a very different sort of apology. On the Conservative Home website, its founder Tim Montgomerie openly confessed to the three big things he considers he has got wrong since he started blogging. Point one is on the NHS, point two is about the 50p tax rate and point three is on gay marriage. From my point of view if these are the worst things Montgomerie has misjudged then he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. None of these are easy to call, although I personally think his stand on gay marriage is the wrong one.
What is apparent is Montgomerie’s openness and honesty. He finishes the piece by stating:
“One of the many reasons I don’t want to be an MP is that I think this sort of ability to think openly and reflectively is probably impossible when you are standing for office. I hope my commentary in future years will be mainly correct, mainly insightful and mainly put to the service of good causes. What I certainly can’t promise, however, is that I’ll always get things right.”
This view of politics where you are unable to speak openly is a very sad one. The first comment at the end of his post sums up my feelings on this: “You are wrong Tim, that is EXACTLY what people want from their elected official.”
The following comments both agree and disagree with Montgomerie’s opinions, but most admire his willingness to admit his self identified mistakes. He receives plenty of praise for doing so.
I don’t fully understand why in the game of politics vulnerability and the ability to say sorry are seen as signs of weakness. Often politicians dig their heels in and refuse to admit that they may have got things wrong. Most of the time this does more harm than good and yet the pattern repeats time and again with the same consequences. In James 4:6 it says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
I believe this is true, but not just for God. As humans we often instinctively do the same. We value integrity and as the saying goes, ‘pride comes before a fall’. Hopefully Andrew Mitchell will have plenty of time now to consider what he should have done. I would suggest he and plenty of other MPs take a look at the example Tim Montgomerie’s honesty, the reaction he has recieved and act on it. It could change the face of politics and for the better too.