The intermittent smiles that fluttered on Gordon Brown’s face after he emerged from Gillian Duffy’s house ought to mean she had forgiven him for saying she was a bigot. That done, he wrote and apologised to his party. Will he feel the need to apologise again on the BBC leaders’ debate tonight?
He could be forgiven for finding the experience trying. Whether to a single voter or the entire country, a leader admitting fallibility will always find themselves in a uniquely awkward position. Former defence secretary Des Browne summed up the terrifying complexities of the political apology when he forced himself into the position of producing the classic sentence: “I have expressed a degree of regret that may be equated with an apology.”
In December, Prospect‘s James Crabtree investigated the power and the pitfalls of political apologies more closely:
In his book, Mea Culpa, sociologist Nicholas Tavuchis puts it like this: “An apology, no matter how sincere or effective, does not and cannot undo what has been done. And yet, in a mysterious way and according to its own logic, that is precisely what it manages to do.”
Crabtree applies this thinking to the Labour party in the context of their post-election strategy. Even before “bigotgate,” apologies were going to have to have been a part of that strategy. Let’s hope they’re not as awkward as Brown’s.