It’s refreshing to hear an apology

 

                 After thirteen years of mistakes and economic disaster, it is refreshing to hear a Minister say “Sorry” when he or she has presided over a mistake. It is also reassuring  that the mistakes have not been on the scale of the Boom/Bust errors of Labour.

                 One apology may be endearing. A couple may be welcome. When  they come thick and fast more people say they would prefer Ministers avoid the mistakes in the first place than parade their apologies on the media.

                So what has gone wrong? Why have Caroline Spelman, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and William Hague all had to say sorry in the last few weeks?

              Each case is different. Caroline Spelman put her name to a set of proposals for the forests which the whole Cabinet approved. She then discovered that the opponents put round a verison of her scheme which was unpopular  before she mobilised support. She apologised for misreading the mood of the electorate, and admitted her own misjudgement. It was clearly a Ministerial mistake which her colleagues failed to see in advance or to help her avoid.

               At the other end of the spectrum, Liam Fox apologised when officials sent emails to fire members of the armed services. I am quite sure Liam himself did not ask for the redundancies to be made like that, and he was clearly very unhappy on learning what had happened. He had to apologise for other peoples’ insensitive errors. If you wish to sustain any criticism of the Minister you have to suggest he should have watched over a level of detail in implementation that no Minister would normally get involved in or have reason to suppose the implementation  would miscarry. You could also query the policy decision to sack soldiers still on active service as a general issue, but that is a different matter.

              We are not yet sure why the Foreign office was slow to get transport into Libya to pick up UK citizens. Was the Minister himself slow to act and decide, or did officials fail to organise transport in a  timely way though this had been requested? Given the sensitivity and the media interest, should the Minister have been more active in following up the policy decision?

            Michael Gove had to apologise for failing to consult enough people when he replaced the Schools for the Future programme with investments in school buildings which he thinks will offer better value to taxpayers. We do not know if he was advised to slow down and consult more widely, or if he was let down by the advice. The Judge did find that he was entitled to make the decision he made, but criticised the process. The case had been brought by some angry Labour authorities who saw scope for challenge.

          Each one was different. The only common current is they each illustrate the need for Ministers to involve themselves in the detail as well as the  main decision. A good decision, like finding a cheaper way of building new schools, can generate  ill will if you do not follow due process, and if you do not get out the message that the aim is not the end of all school building, but more school building for the money.

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32 Comments

  1. Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    This rate of political apology suggests that the reason we have not seen the necessary cuts is that the Government is too keen to avoid being unpopular

    They are not prepared to do anything that somebody can object to, no matter how vital it is.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      This government is a shame as all coalition governments are everywhere all over the world.

      In the fifties France was very weak ad ad two or three governments a year, as it had only coalition governments.

      When France with the Fifth Republic adopted the first past the post they immediately obtained durable and strong governments.

  2. Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see that the detoxification of the brand is continuing now you are in government. Every time an unpopular decision has to be made it’s nice to know that Ministers will be falling over themselves to apologise for it.

    So much more civilised than governing according to a set of principles.

  3. Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    It makes a change from the usual politicians apology for something historical that they played no part in. So no apologies for the ERM, endless tax and waste, pointless dishonest wars, or the undemocratic hugely damaging EU just ones for the potato famine and the like.

    Please can we have one from the person who inflicted us with Lord (Chris) Patton as head of the BBC trustees. Nearly everyone at the BBC already thinks exactly as he does. Surely there is room for one person with sensible views on the EU, big government and the green religion just to redress the balance somewhat.

    Whoever voted for him is clearly a big state socialist not a real Tory?

    Reply: Lord Patten comes with the support of Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      My point exactly it says all you need to know about the two of them.

      Let us just hope Lord Patton has learned a little whilst in Hong Kong from their 15% top tax rates perhaps. I rather doubt it though this sort rarely adjust their devout beliefs to accord with science, logic and what actually works.

      • Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        I see Mr Hunt is yet another Oxford PPE man. That course has indeed a very great deal to answer for. Could we not just have a few more simple honest engineers, a few “proper” economists and some straight honest maths and physic type of logical people and far fewer lawyers, PPE graduates and big government think.

        And much less emotion, PR spin and religion throughout just what will actually work.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Lifelong, I see that John has just confirmed your assertion….:-)

      Zorro

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Surely, JR, with any “trust” there should be no doubt that those appointed as trustees can indeed be trusted to perform their duties properly.

      How can we trust somebody to insist that the BBC must adopt an impartial stance on the contentious issue of the EU, as it should under the terms of its Charter, when he is in receipt of a pension from the EU, said to be not far short of £100,000 pa, and is still bound by the terms of the oath he took when he assumed the office of EU Commissioner?

      It’s ridiculous, as ridiculous as having a bunch of ex-Commissioners in the Lords queueing up to vote against allowing us a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

      You know your history, and so no doubt you’ll recall that at one time the Commons objected to having members who were receiving pensions from the sovereign, and in fact one clause of the 1701 Act of Settlement stated:

      http://everything2.com/title/Office+of+Profit+under+the+Crown

      “That no person who has an office or place of profit under the King, or receives a pension from the Crown, shall be capable of serving as a member of the House of Commons”.

      Now we have the analogous problem of persons receiving pensions from the EU being put into public positions and exercising power and influence, so shouldn’t there be a similar legal prohibition on that happening?

  4. Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Aside from the cited bumbling of Ministers, I wonder to what extent the blame should be laid at the doors of Civil Service departments, since the impression is that it is not just the Home Office which has been found “not fit for purpose”.

    Further, one suspects a department like the FCO or MoD has a long-established own agendum and continues to follow this regardless of whatever may be that of the Government of the day. Would Civil Servants actively impede Ministerial directives? Could incompetence be deliberate?

  5. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Your last paragraph is correct. They need to think through the detail or be prepared to carry the policy through and take the flack. If the policy was a central one on which the Conservatives were elected, then they have a mandate and no apology required. If it is flimsy, wet Libdem idea, don’t go there in the first place.

  6. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Far too many people involved, thats when these kinds of mistakes happen.
    Its like the tax system, its so complicated there are are now more mistakes than ever.

    Keep thing simple. it costs less in every way.

  7. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Lifelogic, sorry predictive text…..

  8. Posted February 28, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Having made the first “apology” the next was so much easier and then the next and the next… The depressing thing is that we now have a government that seems to have no more competence than its abysmal predecessor.

    P.S. I suppose it was in that same spirit of “openness” that Cameron is quoted by Daniel Hannan as stating ‘ I don’t believe an In/Out referendum is right, because I don’t believe that leaving the European Union would be in Britain’s interests’ . For Cameron the will of the people is clearly only relevant in the Middle East, not in the UK

  9. Posted February 28, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand why the forest policy was changed. I don’t want to pay taxes for the govt to invest in (or not sell) forests. Public access could easily have been guaranteed as it is across 1000s of miles of privately-owned footpaths.

    Wasn’t the ‘law’ Michael Gove fell foul of Harman’s ludicrous Equalities Act? If so that doesnt count – the Govt should repeal it.

  10. Posted February 28, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    When did the public apology begin? What does it achieve? A heartfelt apology is right and proper, especially where the person making the apology can proceed to do something about the subject matter of the apology which demonstrates that it is genuine.

    As this post demonstrates, the issue in the recent spate of apologies has been more akin to a conversational apology where one misleads the other fellow through putting the case unclearly.

    That is better than the Labbour version, but still leaves one wondering who is driving the projecty. Given that the Conservative Party did go a long way to ‘detoxify’ it is a pity that so early on, it seems to be in such a presentational mess much of the time. Maybe it would help to promote a debate on the facts as per yesterday’s post.

  11. Posted February 28, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, if you want the real answer to the question; look to the ‘Common Purpose’ trained civil service.

  12. Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Lord Patten comes with the support of Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron

    Yet another reason to vote UKIP

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Chris Patten was never a real Tory.

  13. Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Part of the reason is that I don’t think Ministers are getting the help from their civil service staff that they should. This can be put down to a number of reasons; obviously, if a civil servant is personally against a particular policy (or the party he supports is against it), it is not difficult to be obstructive or worse, dependent upon your level in the hierarchy, something that was clearly demonstrated in “Yes Minister”. Unfortunately, the civil service can no longer be relied upon to give unbiased advice to the minister, which is why there has been this huge rise in the number of “Special Advisers” being brought in from outside whom the Ministers believe they can trust. One of the problems is that it is difficult to get rid of senior civil servants as it is very difficult to prove when you are not given adequate advice on the consequences of a possible course of action. In industry someone would probably suggest that your chances of promotion are at an end and you might like to think about moving on, and that should have been the case of those working for Michael Gove and Caroline Spelman.
    At lower levels, people can, and should be moved or sacked and their bosses warned to “get their house in order”; there is no way that Liam Fox should be blamed for the actions of a lower grade civil servant in MoD.
    And as for the Foreign Office, I think they’re living in Cloud Cuckoo Land, they’re behaving like a child at school who wants to be friends with everybody, who does his best to please everybody, but is actually looked down upon as a “toady” and tolerated but not particularly liked by anybody.
    As I’ve said on my own blog, I’d love to ask the FO if they had any plans for evacuating civilians from the Gulf States should any major problems arise there. There has already been some trouble in Bahrain and Oman and from what I hear from ex-pats in the region, it could boil over or spread to the other states quite easily. There are huge numbers of Europeans in the Gulf, both resident and holiday makers, as well as numerous cruise liners who fly passengers to and from Dubai, as indeed I did last year.
    I do hope William Hague has asked a few questions and that he won’t find himself in the same position as Lord Carrington did over the Falklands

  14. Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Could it be they have had to apologise because their policies have been ill-conceived? Rather like the removal of soup kitchens in the City of Westminster by the incumbent Conservative administration – is this Caring Conservativism?

  15. Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  16. Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Popularity will make no difference. In four years time the previous Lib Dem supporters will, on the most part, switch to labour. The Lib Dems will be decimated and we will have a labour government.
    I suspect that this is well understood by those in power and so this period of government is time for them to organise enough points to get them nice new jobs in the future. So nothing will be done that will damage future employers.
    BobE, Region 6, EUSSR.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      With the potential brewing for a nice oil crisis, potential union trouble, and weak policy implementation, I would suggest we are revisiting the 70s with a Heathite government with Mr Cameron as the yacht’s captain (continuing the Heathite analogy). As Mr Marx (Karl not Groucho) said, perhaps history is repeating itself, this time as farce. I visited Highgate cemetery last week, and saw some Russian socialist types who asked me where Marx’s grave was…I’d only just got there myself. I looked on the map and showed them. The trouble with socialists is that they can never work anything out for themselves always asking somebody for help…..

      zorro

  17. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    One of the councils who sued Mr Gove was Kent – Tory, I think, to their great shame.

  18. Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    The problem with Ministers going into detail is they get bogged down. I’ve never understood why backbench MPs don’t get the job of sifting through looking for potential risks. Internships should be offered. This would give far more MPs a chance to get Ministerial experience and help the party to gain depth.

  19. Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I think that Osborne and Osborne ae trying to undermine everyone they belive could challenge them in the future.

  20. Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I think that Osborne and Cameron are simply trying to undermine everyone they believe could challenge them in the future.

    I know for sure that Osborne is very freightned by the possibility that it will be Hague to be the next Tory leader instead of himself.

    • Posted March 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Hague is being ruthlessly briefed against – he’ll be lucky to see out this Parliament still in Cabinet.

  21. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I think your assessment is quite right: apologies make a refreshing change, but it is worrying when they come thick and fast. But as you say they are all different. Michael Gove apologised right at the start when he was given wrong figures by his civil servants. That was correct and disarming. (Labour used to blame their civil servants.) Possibly a slightly politically motivated Judge made the recent decision. The forest business was a typical piece of spin by environmentalists which bore little relation to the truth and the media – to their shame – went along with it. To see the Forestry Commission become a national treasure like the NHS was a bit surreal. I suspect the Coalition decided to let that one go and keep their powder dry for the really big battles ahead. On the other two, we don’t know the full story yet.

  22. Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Apropos the comment by lifelogic on Patten and Hong Kong read Alex Brummer in today’s mail on it’s surprise huge tax surplus,and the comments made on Martin Durkin’s Trillion Pound madness programme.
    As far as the civil service is concerned I think it has been INFESTED particularly since
    1997 by deliberate appointees,and Turkeys don’t vote for Xmas.To all my friends and acquaintances I have described the Evil MATRIX constructed in this country consisting of the EU,PC,Yuman RITES,diversity,Multiculturalism,labelling any dissent Racist,Denial,bigoted,
    Phobic etc etc unless something is done soon in the words of Fraser in Dad’s Army we are Doomed and that is serious NOT a joke.

  23. Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    There was no need for Michael Gove to apologise. The Government has a right to govern without jaw jawing with patently hostile forces and the Judge had no right to interfere. Parliament should ferret out all clauses that place a statutory obligation on Ministers to consult, and scrap the lot. The groups that we reverentially call stakeholders used to be known as vested interests. It really is outrageous that our awful former Labour government is allowed to govern from beyond the grave.

  24. Posted March 1, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Interesting link above.
    “Shameless Mandelson defends Gaddafi’s clan as he claims Blair was ‘absolutely right’ to make friends” – well… we all like making friends. Tony Blair was friendly.

    It would be refreshing to hear an Aopology from Tony Blair – if in fact, Gaddafi is indeed “unfit to Govern” as many News Papers have been saying. If so – was it wise for Tony Blair to sell him weapons and allow British Oil workers into such a harsh country, knowing that the weapons we sold him could be used on his own people – assuming the current News is accurate?

    I would like to declare that these are my own private thoughts on western foreign policy currently being actioned in the Middle East and Far East and not those of Mr John Redwood – who I would imagine may totally disagree with me.

    Anyway …

    Funny how Foreign “Aid” works these days. I heard Peter Hain on Question Time last week, defending Labour’s “Aid” programs to places such as Libya and Egypt, to name two of the Countries (or Regimes) gratefully receiving aid. Gaddafi promised not to make Nuclear Bombs or Chemical Bombs so we promised to sell him a load of other Weapons. And we kept our word, an so did he.

    Saddam Hussein was another ‘blued eyed boy’ in the eyes of the West in the Eighties when he did what he was told. Is there any truth to the rumour that Saddam Hussein was considering switching from the US Dollar to the EURO for payment of the Iraq Oil?

    Is it true that Iran is considering a similar move to the Euro with dire consequences for the US Economy?

    Why is it that Countries which are now experiencing austerity measures can always find an Aircraft Carrier nearby (The USS Entrerprise) when supposedly helping the oppressed peoples of a Country who we and the United States supplied military arms to? I can understand sending large military Aircraft to evacuate people but do we really have to to send a Nuclear Powered Ship full of Fighter Jets and Missiles to rescue people? This seems like the same War mongering exercises off the coast of North Korea in December or a prelude to Invasion. Very Victorian.

    Some News Media outlets in Eastern Europe are saying that there is no evidence of attacks on Protestors in Libya from Military Aircraft, based on Satellite Imaginery.

    The frequency and seriousness of World Events seems to be quickening, but to what end.

    Why is it that one minute a Dictator is a friend to the West, next minute they are portrayed as unbalanced and slightly worse than Hitler. And the News media always concentrates on the fate of the oppressed while ignoring the key issue of Oil and economic control over a foreign country which is what this is really all about.

    Perhaps we should lead the World by developing Electric Cars so as to reduce our dependence on Oil before all the best brains around get diverted from Engineering and into the Financial Derivatives Market.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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