Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Weasel words

"I'm sorry if what I'm setting out to do hasn't communicated itself...Listening to the vote this morning, if I've not got that message across then I apologise."

Andrew Lansley's words, reported last week as "an abject apology", were nothing of the kind, for three reasons:

First, I'm sorry is rarely an apology; usually it is an expression of regret for something for which the speaker bears no trace of responsibility: I'm sorry to hear your grandmother's got piles. Second, use of the conditional if, twice, suggests that it is by no means certain that there is anything to apologise for. Finally, switching to the passive hasn't communicated itself lets the speaker out: if you didn't get it, that was your fault or the message's, not mine.

He could have made an apology which really meant something: I now realise that my proposals for the NHS were ill-considered and likely to harm the NHS irrevocably, and that I failed to explain them clearly and honestly. For these things, and my general incompetence, I apologise.

Fat chance.

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