Andrew Mitchell’s failed apology: what he should have said

by Stephen Tall on September 24, 2012

‘Andrew Mitchell: what an idiot.’ That seems to be the consensus from Lib Dems in Brighton. Partly it’s borne of frustration that his self-admitted outburst against the police is distracting attention away from the party conference. Unfortunately, ‘Tory cabinet minister calls police effing plebs’ is a lot more interesting than policy news about schools funding or international aid.

But the bigger reason for thinking Andrew Mitchell is a bit of an idiot is demonstrated by his inept apology this morning, an apology which managed to dodge the word ‘sorry’ and left entirely unresolved exactly what it was he said or didn’t say. Of course there’s a bit of an irony in the media berating Andrew Mitchell for not fully saying sorry after a week when many journalists have derided Nick Clegg for doing exactly that. And it seems to me all the fuss is a bit overdone. But that’s politics for you, and politicians (and their media advisors) should know that.

So here’s some suggestions of what Andrew Mitchell should have said if he really wanted to draw a line:

First of all, I want to say sorry. I have already said sorry to the police officer concerned. I am grateful to him for accepting my apology. I also want to say sorry to the public at large. As a cabinet minister I know that people rightly expect me to uphold the highest standards. I clearly failed to do so.

Understandably people want to know exactly what I said. The truth is, I lost my temper after a difficult and frustrating day. I don’t say that as an excuse. But I said things I should never have done. I genuinely do not remember using some of the words that have been attributed to me. They are not words I would ever use. But in the heat of the moment, when my temper got the better of me, I cannot swear to exactly what was said or heard. What I can say is that I am genuinely sorry for this mess of my own making.

I hope people will accept this apology in the genuine spirit in which it is intended.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.