Tom Peterkin: Saying you’re sorry is not always a good political move
IT WAS more than 35 years ago that Elton John first sang: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” and it was this week that Nick Clegg confirmed the truth of that lyric.
Not only was a tough decision taken when Clegg chose to utter the “S” word, but the ridicule that has followed must be even harder to bear.
The Lib Dem leader’s mea culpa was a high risk strategy – an attempt to draw a line under a broken promise that has dogged his party as it nosedives towards oblivion.
One could argue that an abject apology was worth the risk, because the fortunes of the Lib Dems have plummeted so dramatically that there is now nothing to lose given that electoral wipe out is a foregone conclusion.
But in this internet era, it was inevitable that an overly earnest Clegg wringing his hands over his failure to keep his pledge to oppose increasing tuition fees would lead to merciless online lampoonery.
Leading the way was the satirical The Poke – Time Well Wasted – website (www.thepoke.co.uk), which doctored the Clegg broadcast to turn it into a cheesy pop song.
Using autotune technology – the same sort of computerised wizardry that got X Factor into trouble for tweaking out-of-tune vocals – The Poke has produced a ditty that would give Elton a run for his money. Apparently the Nick Clegg Says Sorry (the Autotune Remix) track proved so popular that The Poke website crashed several times yesterday morning.
And it can’t just have been the fact that Clegg decided to broadcast his apology from his house that led to others to compare his message to a humiliated husband saying sorry to a furious wife.
One online satirist provided amusement by overlaying the apology/confessional with the Simon Bates Our Tune music. Another biting bit of mickey-taking saw “honest” subtitles added to the video.
So, Clegg’s statement: “It was a pledge made with the best of intentions. But we should not have made a promise that we were not absolutely sure we could deliver” was translated as: “It was a lie in order to get the student vote. But we wanted to join the other parties in making promises we were absolutely sure we couldn’t deliver.”
The backlash makes one understand why Alex Salmond is so unashamedly unapologetic. The First Minister has been criticised for a certain gracelessness when he refuses to give in to opposition demands for apologies. The Clegg experience shows that an apology is not always a smart political move.
As he tries to pick himself up, Clegg has given his permission for the Autotune Remix to be made into a charity single. At least that shows he has a sense of humour and at this tricky time for the Lib Dems, God knows, he needs one.
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