21 September 2012
Senior Consultant, Public Affairs
Nick Clegg has, on the face of it, made that rarest of political moves; he has admitted he was wrong.
For obvious reasons politicians are reluctant to admit their (often glaring) fallibility. Although MPs tend not to be shy of advertising their humility by admitting to not ‘having all the answers’ they are rather less forthcoming when asked exactly which answers they aren’t able to offer us.
They all know that it is political seppuku to say you don’t have a silver bullet (or at least that you’ve almost finished designing the silver bullet and it should be ready very soon indeed). Confidence, certainty, and the ability to provide a fool-proof solution are what win votes. No-one is going to vote for someone who doesn’t know what to do to.
So why has Clegg admitted he was wrong? On closer inspection it seems that Clegg’s ‘apology’ is anything but a sincere mea culpa. He didn’t say ‘I am sorry for reneging on a manifesto commitment’ so much as ‘I am sorry I was prevented from implementing my manifesto commitment’. No prizes for guessing of whom Clegg is thinking here.
Rather than the genuine recognition and acknowledgement of error this was a transparent attempt by Clegg to be seen to tackle ‘the elephant in the room’; the huge disillusionment amongst party loyalists and floating voters alike caused by the tuition fee U-turn. The other elephant in the room is the root cause of this situation: that the Lib Dems are a party catapulted to power (or at least the accountability that goes with power) from a situation so distant from electoral success that they could (and did) promise just about anything without fear of being called to account on it.
Although this kind of ‘unapology’ is rather unedifying, the bigger issue for him will be his guarantee that the Lib Dems will not make any more promises ‘unless we are absolutely clear on how we can keep’ them. This is an open invitation for every policy he advocates in the future to be picked apart on the basis that it hasn’t been costed properly (as virtually no policies are prior to launch these days).
In 2010 Nick Clegg’s pledge to voters was ‘No More Broken Promises’. Perhaps he meant to say ‘One More Broken Promise’.