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Politics no image

Published on September 25th, 2012 | by Daniel Crump
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] Nick Clegg recently issued an apology over the rise in tuition fees © Liberal Democrats[/caption]   The weird and wonderful world of British politics took on a slightly more bizarre tone this week when Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg issued an apology for failing to stick to a promise his Party had made in opposition. We should be clear about what was actually said in Clegg’s statement. It seems his apology was for sticking so strongly to such an unworkable policy in opposition, rather than actually raising the fees themselves once in power. It was almost like saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught, but not that I did something wrong’. I have never been opposed to the raising of tuition fees, and I would have despaired at hearing my party’s leader say that it was a bad idea to do so. The denouncement of higher fees would have left the Liberal Democrats in an unsustainable position, right up to the election in 2015, having to champion the policy that our leader had apologised for. Clegg certainly did the right thing by apologising for the pledge, rather than the policy. This is not to say that I agree with the decision to make the video, I don’t. I found the apology, as a whole, to be somewhat contradictory. One of the positive things about the Lib Dem’s involvement in the coalition, which Nick himself mentions towards the beginning of the video, is that we have ‘provided stable leadership’ in these times of economic uncertainty. This is simply my own opinion, but I happen to believe that leadership is less about apologising for ‘making mistakes’ and more about explaining your position when you change your mind due to circumstance. The Party as a whole simply didn’t do this well enough when they had the chance. There should have been a similar video to this, or perhaps even a series of videos, around the time of the tuition fees vote explaining that scrapping the fees was going to cost the country too much money, and during these more than abnormal times, we were going to have the courage to do what was best for everyone, not just the people who make up the majority of our share of the vote. Instead, the party seemed to hide behind their senior coalition partners in the hope that they could shield us from as much public hostility as possible. At best, all we can hope for at the moment are a few slaps on the back and a friendly word or two from the more understanding sectors of middle England. If we had better defended our position at the time, we could have been viewed as the party willing to temporarily shelve short term poll ratings in order to push on with the most realistic and workable plan for sorting out our financial difficulties. I’m not saying that we didn’t try to defend our decision, but I guarantee that this apology will receive more media attention than anything we came up with back at the time of the vote. Nick Clegg has also set a rather uneasy precedent. Granted, pledging to scrap tuition fees and then tripling them is quite a dramatic U-turn, but it wasn’t the first time that a Party has gone back on its word and it certainly won’t be the last. Are we now going to see more of these awkward video apologies every time this happens? What will the public make of politicians who don’t make an apology video when they have U-turned on a policy? This coalition has changed its mind a fair few times over the past two and a half years and I think they have handled that quite well. Of course, it is still their job to take their case to the public and explain why they have decided to scrap a previous policy, and it always helps in PR terms to have a slightly humble tone when doing this, but to issue an apology for a failed promise is taking it one unnecessary step further. As much as we all like to moan and groan about it, the fact that politicians break their promises and refuse to categorically apologise for it is like living in some blissful naive haze. Opposition, as Nick himself has said, is a comfort, a time when one is free to throw ideas into the ether, dust off the white boards and make mind maps until the early hours. The fact that none of these policies are going to be easy to stick to once in power is the elephant in the room that we all somehow manage to live with. It is difficult enough for politicians and their parties to be decisive when they are in power these days when so much emphasis is placed on pushing up the leader’s approval ratings for that particular month. What Nick Clegg has done is taken away the privilege that comes with being in opposition. If you can’t experiment with ideas then, when can you? One of the main problems is that far too much focus is placed on the unveiling of the Party Manifesto which should be seen as a work in progress, something to refer back to now and again but ultimately something that should be altered when the situation calls for it. Politics is filled with these kinds of game changers, and the 2008 recession was probably the biggest game changer we have seen this century after 9/11. I applaud the Liberal Democrats for shedding the unworkable policies and maturing into a party that had a better than outside chance of winning a future election. For those of us who prefer to remain a party of perpetual opposition I say good luck to you. With the current opposition failing to be coherent on the simplest of issues, let alone the really big questions, British politics is in danger of becoming an endless back and forth game of apologies, U-turns and counter U-turns, maybe even to the point where opposition parties will say next to nothing in the run up to the election through fear of having to apologise later. Is this what constitutes ‘stable leadership’? I think not.

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Is ‘sorry’ the new political buzzword?

Nick Clegg recently issued an apology over the rise in tuition fees © Liberal Democrats

 

The weird and wonderful world of British politics took on a slightly more bizarre tone this week when Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg issued an apology for failing to stick to a promise his Party had made in opposition. We should be clear about what was actually said in Clegg’s statement. It seems his apology was for sticking so strongly to such an unworkable policy in opposition, rather than actually raising the fees themselves once in power. It was almost like saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught, but not that I did something wrong’.

I have never been opposed to the raising of tuition fees, and I would have despaired at hearing my party’s leader say that it was a bad idea to do so. The denouncement of higher fees would have left the Liberal Democrats in an unsustainable position, right up to the election in 2015, having to champion the policy that our leader had apologised for. Clegg certainly did the right thing by apologising for the pledge, rather than the policy.

This is not to say that I agree with the decision to make the video, I don’t. I found the apology, as a whole, to be somewhat contradictory. One of the positive things about the Lib Dem’s involvement in the coalition, which Nick himself mentions towards the beginning of the video, is that we have ‘provided stable leadership’ in these times of economic uncertainty. This is simply my own opinion, but I happen to believe that leadership is less about apologising for ‘making mistakes’ and more about explaining your position when you change your mind due to circumstance. The Party as a whole simply didn’t do this well enough when they had the chance. There should have been a similar video to this, or perhaps even a series of videos, around the time of the tuition fees vote explaining that scrapping the fees was going to cost the country too much money, and during these more than abnormal times, we were going to have the courage to do what was best for everyone, not just the people who make up the majority of our share of the vote. Instead, the party seemed to hide behind their senior coalition partners in the hope that they could shield us from as much public hostility as possible. At best, all we can hope for at the moment are a few slaps on the back and a friendly word or two from the more understanding sectors of middle England. If we had better defended our position at the time, we could have been viewed as the party willing to temporarily shelve short term poll ratings in order to push on with the most realistic and workable plan for sorting out our financial difficulties. I’m not saying that we didn’t try to defend our decision, but I guarantee that this apology will receive more media attention than anything we came up with back at the time of the vote.

Nick Clegg has also set a rather uneasy precedent. Granted, pledging to scrap tuition fees and then tripling them is quite a dramatic U-turn, but it wasn’t the first time that a Party has gone back on its word and it certainly won’t be the last. Are we now going to see more of these awkward video apologies every time this happens? What will the public make of politicians who don’t make an apology video when they have U-turned on a policy? This coalition has changed its mind a fair few times over the past two and a half years and I think they have handled that quite well. Of course, it is still their job to take their case to the public and explain why they have decided to scrap a previous policy, and it always helps in PR terms to have a slightly humble tone when doing this, but to issue an apology for a failed promise is taking it one unnecessary step further.

As much as we all like to moan and groan about it, the fact that politicians break their promises and refuse to categorically apologise for it is like living in some blissful naive haze. Opposition, as Nick himself has said, is a comfort, a time when one is free to throw ideas into the ether, dust off the white boards and make mind maps until the early hours. The fact that none of these policies are going to be easy to stick to once in power is the elephant in the room that we all somehow manage to live with. It is difficult enough for politicians and their parties to be decisive when they are in power these days when so much emphasis is placed on pushing up the leader’s approval ratings for that particular month. What Nick Clegg has done is taken away the privilege that comes with being in opposition. If you can’t experiment with ideas then, when can you?

One of the main problems is that far too much focus is placed on the unveiling of the Party Manifesto which should be seen as a work in progress, something to refer back to now and again but ultimately something that should be altered when the situation calls for it. Politics is filled with these kinds of game changers, and the 2008 recession was probably the biggest game changer we have seen this century after 9/11. I applaud the Liberal Democrats for shedding the unworkable policies and maturing into a party that had a better than outside chance of winning a future election. For those of us who prefer to remain a party of perpetual opposition I say good luck to you.

With the current opposition failing to be coherent on the simplest of issues, let alone the really big questions, British politics is in danger of becoming an endless back and forth game of apologies, U-turns and counter U-turns, maybe even to the point where opposition parties will say next to nothing in the run up to the election through fear of having to apologise later. Is this what constitutes ‘stable leadership’? I think not.

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