I’ve been stewing all day about Nick Clegg’s assertion that his apology was right, on the basis that:
“I just genuinely thought what we did was wrong and I should apologise for it. I just hope that reasonable people – whether they have heard it to music or not – will think okay, fair enough, he’s come clean.”
The problem is, Nick, that you’re still not telling the truth, as George Eaton has so astutely noted already. Similarly Clegg argued on Marr this morning:
“I think the vast majority of people in this country would find it wholly unacceptable if further fiscal austerity was basically implemented on the backs of the poor.”
Which would be fine, were it not completely ignoring that the brunt of the cuts carried out so far have fallen on “the backs of the poor”. It was duplicitous at best…
Clegg seems to believe that by apologising – although for making a pledge, not breaking it – he can somehow begin to restore faith in politics, and perhaps even save himself. On both scores he couldn’t be more wrong.
The reason Nick Clegg is so reviled is not because he made a promise – countless politicians do that – but it’s because he broke that same promise. Now you may say that politicians break promises all the time – and you’d be right – but Nick Clegg made the mistake of breaking a promise about the one thing people definitely knew about his party in 2010. And at a time when trust in politicians was at an all time low after the expenses scandal. And after getting into a coalition bed with the Tories that many of those who voted for Clegg wouldn’t have been seen dead in. It was a triple whammy of faith and trust-busting weaslyness. And no apology for making pledges can undo that.
What could bring politics back from the precipice would be if – and I know this seems like a long shot – politicians actually kept their promises. That not only means learning Clegg’s lesson – don’t make promises you can’t keep – but also another lesson – if you make a promise, you have to keep it, even if that’s hard to do. Otherwise your promises are just empty, politician breath. Coffee vapours. And you can’t build good government on coffee vapours, despite the efforts of some ministers to try.
So it was promising then to hear Lord Wood – one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers – write earlier this week that:
“When politicians dress up tactical manoeuvring and political constraint as personal sincerity, the cynicism of voters is bound to increase.”
Very true, and very astute – and something I hope Lord Wood and those around Ed will hold the Labour leader to.
To put it more crudely that Wood might – politicians need to “cut the crap”. Too often politicians have been happy to “appear honest” or “act with good intentions”. Labour did it plenty. Indeed the Lib Dems are not alone in promising not to vote for higher fees, and then bending over backwards to do just that after an election. It was as wrong when we did it as it was when the Lib Dems did it. We were just lucky enough that it wasn’t the only thing people knew about Labour, and that people didn’t despise politicians (as much).
Of course many politicos will say that the lazy characterisation of politicians as liars is completely unfair. They’d probably say that it’s media spin that ignores the vast majority of times that politicians tell the truth. But as anyone who has ever heard the joke will tell you, you can do what you like with the rest of your life – “but if you f**k one goat, they’ll call you a goatf**ker”. So it goes with politicians. You can be honest your whole life, but if you’re shonky with the truth just once, you’re a liar.
So if you want a reputation as being straight, you’ve got to be unimpeachably honest. Now is that likely? Probably not. Would the whole edifice of modern politics collapse if everyone was honest? Quite possibly? But is it something that could and should be aspired to, and might lift our national dialogue away from the strong winds of anti-politics? Of course.