In the introduction to my last post I touched on the orgy of apology that we have had to endure from MPs, the Speaker, the leaders of the main political parties etc. etc. Yet whether the apology is profound or passing, the overwhelming response of the man and woman in the street (or Harriet Harman’s “court of public opinion”) seems to be anger and resignation. “Sorry” (however expressed) just doesn’t seem to work any more – and the endless repetition has devalued the word to such an extent that before using it in an email to a client this morning (Shock horror! Lawyer says sorry) I wondered if he thought I would be taking the piss.
I went back to a couple of posts by Matthew Taylor in February, where he anatomised apologies: Sorry bankers – a scorecard and Bankers apology – the verdict. Taylor was writing after the appearance of Sir Fred Goodwin and others before the Treasury Select Committee. Read the posts in full: they apply as much to the expenses fiasco as to the contrite (?) bankers.
Perhaps it’s time to take a more systematic approach to apologies. After all, not all ‘sorries’ are worth much. When I worked in Number Ten, Tony Blair used occasionally to admit he’d made a mistake but only when he wished he had listened to himself earlier!
A distinction to start with when grading apologies is between apologising for the act and apologising for the consequences. Insincere apologies will tend to be weak on one or other side; either ‘I’m sorry for what happened but there was nothing I could have done about it’, or ‘I made a mistake but I’m not responsible for what happened as a result’.
I haven’t yet scored the recent apologies (and no doubt someone else will) but the visual representation of the apologies scorecard which Matt Cain produced for Matthew Taylor is very good.