When should a politician say sorry?

by Stephen Tall on April 14, 2009

Damian McBride’s indefensibly puerile emails seeking to smear senior Tories (and Nadine Dorries) have left David Cameron understandably livid:

David Cameron is demanding a personal apology from Prime Minister Gordon Brown over e-mails sent by an adviser discussing smearing the Tories. The Tory leader is “absolutely furious” and is calling on Mr Brown to give a guarantee that such messages will not be sent again, a spokeswoman said.

Many will argue – no matter which party they support – that this is the very least Mr Brown should do. It does not matter that he is not personally implicated, that he did not authorise his official spokesman’s dirty tactics. The fact is that the buck must stop at the top, and it’s right that the leader of the Labour party should apologise for spiteful acts perpetrated by his own representative.

Which brings us to David Cameron and former Watford Tory parliamentary candidate, Ian Oakley. Mr Oakley, LDV readers may recall, was convicted by the courts last August of 75 offences of criminal damage, defamation, intimidation and harassment against local Liberal Democrats.

The Tory candidate sent leaflets and letters to thousands of households accusing prominent local Lib Dems of being wife beaters, child abusers and financially fraudulent. He graffitied houses with words such as ‘pedo’ (sic) and caused more than £10,000 of damage to party members’ property.

You might think such behaviour would warrant an apology from the local Tory constituency association. You might also think that Mr Cameron would feel it appropriate to offer a personal apology on behalf of his party to the innocent victims of his candidate’s abuse. You might very well think that … but Mr Cameron couldn’t possibly comment, it seems.

As Sara Bedford notes on her blog:

The Conservative leader’s silence was as deafening as that of his colleagues here in Watford. … For the past nine months, the Conservatives both locally and nationally have maintained that whatever Ian Oakley did was nothing to do with them – he had resigned and that was that.

Here’s a quote to consider this Easter, Mr Cameron: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’