Respec' to Da Fink: Comment Central apologises to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on April 15, 2009

Straightforward public apologies are an almost extinct species. Such mea culpas are nearly always hedged-about, heavily-caveatted, explained-away with mealy-mouthed phrases (‘the general point remains’, ‘based on information available at the time’, ‘written in good faith’).

So I’m going simply to say well done, and thank you, to The Times’s Daniel Finkelstein for penning a simple and graceful apology to the Liberal Democrats for criticising the party’s monitoring of the policing of the G20 protests.

You can read my articles taking Danny’s original postings to task here, here, here and here.

Today, Danny has posted the following retraction to his Comment Central blog, Mature reflection on the Liberals and the G20, which I hope he’s happy for LDV to quote in full:

The decision of a number of senior Liberal Democrats to be legal observers at the G20 demonstrations prompted me to ask Nick Clegg whether he approved of their decision.

I suggested that for the front bench of a major political party to start monitoring the police was extraordinary.

My two posts on this theme attracted a large number of comments from Liberals with a big and a small L. They expressed disappointment, though not surprise, at my stance.

Well, I have returned from a few days away. I have read your comments. I have caught up with the stories about police conduct. And there is no doubt about it.

You, the critics, were right. I was wrong. And I am very sorry now that I wrote as I did.

I think the police have a very hard job dealing with the sort of protest violence that trade meetings now occasion. I also believe that anyone attending that sort of protest would have been aware that heavy handed policing was likely in order to contain any violence. It was the aim of some pretty wretched people to provoke the police into acts that would discredit the force.

However that does not justify what were clearly more than one or two isolated examples of brutal police tactics.

So I think it was naïve of me to write in advance of the demos that there was no case for parliamentarians to act as legal observers. In fact, in retrospect that is obviously a good use of their prestige and position.

Nick Clegg should be proud of their decision and not, as I implied, embarassed.

But what may have been naïve before, was completely unacceptable when written after the event.

A colleague I much like and admire told me of his experience at the demo as a journalist observer and I should have taken his comments more seriously. Clearly an important liberal principle – the right to free protest – was at stake. The police have learned how to contain protester violence but clearly not yet how to do it in a way compatible with that important freedom.

I am dealing with this at length now, because I don’t want the immediacy of blogging to get in the way of insights gained through mature reflection.

And because I can’t ask others to think again unless I do the same.

Y’see, Gordon and David – that’s how apologies work. They can even enhance the reputation of the apologiser.