One sorry doesn’t save the Tory sinners

by John Woodcock

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent, played by John Travolta, testily tells fellow hitman Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop giving him grief about the fact he has just accidently shot  a third member of their gang in the face.

“Did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he’s wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings”? asks Vincent.

Now I am obviously not making any comparison at all between the drug-fuelled, murderous underworlds created by Quentin Tarantino and environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s disagreeable encounters with forest lovers. No one died, or was ever going to die, as a result of the hopefully now aborted Tory forest privatisation plan.

Nevertheless, there was a concerted effort last week to impose a Pulp Fiction philosophy on those seeking to assess the effect on the government’s credibility of David Cameron’s growing reputation for u-turns.

“A shining example of the new politics”, was how one robustly pro-coalition Liberal Democrat MP described Caroline Spelman’s humiliating volte-face on forests.

Bravo to the Conservatives for finally admitting openly that this mass sell-off of our English heritage, of which they had been extolling the virtues for months, was in fact bonkers. Shame on Labour for not having the good grace to join in the choruses of “For she’s a jolly good fellow” ringing out from the government benches behind the newly repentant environment secretary.

Now it has to be said that the way Ms Spelman baldly admitted she had been wrong and the tone she adopted in doing so were indeed striking last week. And they fairly disarming.

But the public are not daft. Yes, when faced with a government doing something they rightly hate, they would of course rather it changed its mind. But nothing beats not wanting to do it in the first place: having the good sense to realise from the outset what is totally beyond the pale.

And there is something else that fundamentally undermines the notion that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are taking a further stride into a new dawn with each successive u-turn. That is the fact that a Spelman-style mea culpa is actually the exception rather than the rule so far.

Compare her approach to that of defence secretary the previous day on an equally important issue – the military covenant between government and the armed forces. Liam Fox point blank refused to admit that he had backed away from the Tory commitment to enshrine covenant in law, ignoring all evidence to the contrary presented by respected groups like the Royal British Legion.

It was more Vicky Pollard: “I never”, than Spelman: “I’m sorry”. All supplemented with wild attacks on Labour to the effect that we never apologised, so why should they? (They were clearly too busy getting to grips with the levers of power to listen to our four month long leadership contest, when at times we seemed to do little else).

But the real test will come in how open David Cameron and George Osborne are with the public if they change course in the budget to tackle the lack of growth in the economy. Will the new politics extend to George Osborne standing up to admit that the economic masochism imposed in the first nine months of Tory-led government is not in the country’s long term interests after all?

I very much doubt it.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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2 Responses to “One sorry doesn’t save the Tory sinners”

  1. Tacitus says:

    Aaah but he probably won’t do that because he has no Plan B. If the economy collapses and the prognosis looks bleak, he’ll probably throw his teddy in the air and scream for Mervyn King to tell him what to do – then God help us all.

  2. Mark Vernon says:

    Personally I think it’s a show of strength for a government to admit it’s mistakes rather than to blindly forget the past as the current Labour administration seem to. Brown, Balls, Darling and Ed were all involved in loosing the reigns to this countries finances but wont show even the initiative of the traditionally snake-like Tories to accept they made a mistake and try to remedy it.

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