We live in a society where ‘Sorry’ seems to be the easiest word. Apologies are demanded from public figure for the most minor transgression, preferably with tears. And if the apology is not forthcoming, the weight of the media descends. Politicians in recent years have thrown apologies around like confetti, thereby demeaning their value. Sometimes they have the desired effect and on other occasions they can rebound. I am still not sure whether Nick Clegg’s mea culpa over student fees did him any favours or not.
So when David Cameron visited Amritsar this week, on the final leg of his visit to India, everyone was agog to learn whether he would apologise on behalf of Britain for the massacre of 400 Sikhs in 1919. As it turned out, he called it a “deeply shameful event in British history” but didn’t use the ‘S’ word. But strangely the wrath of the Gods of Apology did not rain down on him. One local official, in charge of the memorial site said “He came here, he paid a tribute. It was more than an apology.” We talked about this on my LBC radio show later that evening and were deluged with calls from Sikhs and Indians, none of whom criticised Cameron’s reluctance to actually say sorry. Most of them said they felt it was ridiculous for a politician to apologise for something he himself had no control over and wasn’t even alive at the time. Wise people. Apologies should be contemporaneous. They must relate to recent events, be genuine and be full of genuine remorse and contrition. Only then can they really mean something.