Friday, February 18, 2011

In praise of... public repentance

Back here, I spoke about the difficulty of political repentance in an age of partisan point-scoring through instant media. Why are policy changes made in the light of new evidence or contexts always attacked as "backflips" ("flip-flops" for users of American English) rather than treated as crucial moments of recognition? Isn't the freedom to change one's mind at the heart of our freedoms?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a campaign to protest against the proposal sale of English forests. Earlier this week the proposal was dropped with an unequivocal apology from the environmental secretary, Caroline Spelman.

The following exchange in the Commons illustrates the dynamic.
Labour MP: "Is it not [sic] this humiliating climbdown a tribute to the anger of huge numbers of people who said they would not have this? Is it not deplorable that you have been forced to stand in the corner with the dunce's cap on your head by a cabinet which drove the whole lot of them to vote the opposite two weeks ago?"

Spelman: "It is only humiliating if you are afraid to say sorry. We teach our children to say sorry."

It would have been good for the leaders of the Coalition also to acknowledge their own roles instead of appointing a scapegoat to claim full responsibility. But I honour Caroline Spelman for her actions.


Jon Coutts said...

brilliant point, hats off to Caroline Spelman.

J R Yankovic said...

A second thanks. Exactly the sort of "charity" in our political discourse - not to mention old-fashioned Boy Scout humility - we so desperately need today (assuming, I mean, we're not all to become jihadified). Btw, any any chance of exporting a bit to the wilds across the pond?

Matheson said...

I'm reminded of that story about Keynes who, when accused of flip-flopping, reportedly quipped: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

byron smith said...

Matheson - Yes, a great quote. Though I'm not quite sure which facts have changed in this case, apart from the vociferous revelation of public opinion.

Hopefully, the change of heart was not simply due to the idea's unpopularity, but was the result of taking seriously the arguments against the sale. I will be charitable and assume the latter.

J R Yankovic - Welcome to commenting. As for exporting things, it is usually only wise to do that from a surplus, rather than meagre survival/starvation rations!