Political language


The newspapers and news and current affairs programmes this week are full of Labour “apologising” for the mistakes they made during their period of office between 1997 and 2010. I do not remember politicians ever apologising for their own actions in government over the time when I have been taking an interest (about 50 years). They may apologise for slavery, which ended in Britain in the 18th century, although the slave trade went on until 1806, but that is an easy thing to do – no one can even remember a family member who was involved, they all died so long ago; but to apologise for things you did, or didn’t do, ten years ago – that is something new in my experience.

But something else changed when Labour came to office in 1997. Ministers when interviewed about their policies always insisted that this was the “right” thing to do. From Tony Blair to, especially, Gordon Brown, and all their subordinates, they one and all arrogantly suggested that having considered all the alternative policies, there was only one right course of action, and this was it. However arrogant the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major may have been, my recollection is that they only ever claimed that their policies were the best options, wording which allows more wriggle room if they subsequently need to be changed.

Perhaps if Labour had stuck to this less definite phraseology, they would not now be apologising for getting it wrong.

I’m surprised that no political commentators seem to have picked up on this.

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