On Saying ‘Sorry’

When I read the headline that Nick Clegg had apologised over the Liberal Democrat tuition fees pledge, I shrugged. It’s nothing new.

I did wonder “Why now?” and found that the Lib Dem Conference is coming. Clegg’s video apology is a party political broadcast solely dedicated to when they made the pledge to vote against any type of tuition fees rise, under any circumstances.

It didn’t take long for an ‘honest’ subtitled version of the video to emerge. There’s even an auto-tune mix of Clegg’s broadcast.

While much of the Twitter response and online comments have decided not to play along with the apology, there has clearly been some playing along for laughs.

You don’t get to see many MPs saying a very direct ‘sorry’. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that many policy wonks, student leaders and HE staff will give it time of day.

The video wasn’t made for those of us more involved, though. These things are produced in order to cover a wider public whose interest hasn’t strayed much beyond what’s in the papers and on the news. Helen Lewis in the New Statesman says, “Making the video is a bold move from Clegg”.

Will it be enough to soften up some people and bring a renewed optimism to some of the public? The reaction so far suggests it might not. And while it’s hardly scientific (and probably still not looking at a wide enough cross-section of the public), there are nearly three YouTube dislikes for every one like on Clegg’s apology video (at time of writing, 392 likes, 1027 dislikes).

NUS President, Liam Burns, said that Clegg should apologise for breaking the pledge, not making it. Clegg expressed regret in the past for having made the pledge. Has there been any regret in having broken it?

Clegg’s move is an attempt to draw a line under an issue that already had a line drawn under it many moons ago. This apology doesn’t do anything new. Votes were cast, the choices were made, the game was changed, and the situation is playing out as we speak.

That situation continues to change and we’re bound to see more policy tweaks ongoing. Think of it as the policy equivalent of the credit crunch. If enough people make enough changes and they all impact on each other, the resulting confusion will ensure that nobody knows what’s going on where, how everything is linked any more, or how to get back on track.

Clegg’s apology video is not a change in policy. Neither does it put matters in a new perspective. For a view of Clegg’s position when the tuition fees issue was still fresh, look no further than William Cullerne Bown’s assessment from 2010.

‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word…And for many students, ‘Apology accepted’ may be the hardest reply.