Gordon Brown Uses Sorry as Electoral Weapon

Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 8:13 AM EDT

Gordon Brown is now sorry for not regulating the banks more tightly while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 to 2007. It's a curious move, so close to the biggest test of his leadership of the country on 6 May. For Leaders in politics or business, apologising for past mistakes is seldom a move that is received well by those who have been injured. The damage is done and saying sorry won't make things right.
Lawyers often advise against apologising, because it implies legal liability for the mistake.

Although it's the mature thing to do, it leaves the confessor with the taint of failure that is difficult to rub off. Early last year, the bankers at the centre of the UK economic downturn apologised for their part in bringing the country to the brink of financial meltdown, but many of them then disappeared from the public gaze, at least for a while.

After his apology, Brown has to brave the media glare for at least another few weeks.

So why the uncharacteristic show of human emotion from a man with such a reputation of having difficulty in engaging with people? He didn't land the top job in the land without learning a few political tricks, so we have to assume this is a calculated move, rather than a trip into political suicide.

Here's some possible reasons behind this apology:

  • OK, it's an apology -- but he's not standing alone. I don't recall any big clamour for tighter banking regulation at the time. The City and indeed the rest of the country were quite happy for the money to continue rolling in, with very few questions being asked about where it came from.
  • OK, it's an apology -- but it's really a chance to highlight some of the mitigating circumstances around Brown's light-touch approach to the banks, taking the heat out of Conservative accusations that the economic downturn was solely a result of Labour fiscal policy.
  • Brown knows he needs to come across as more of a personality to the electorate. This gives him a chance to show an emotional side, without it looking like an exercise in image manufacturing.
  • Brown is taking one for the team. Taking on some of the responsibility for not wrangling the banks means the next Labour government, if there is one, catches on less of the blame for the state of the economy. It cleanses the party of past mistakes. It possibly means Brown is preparing the ground to stand down after the general election.
  • It's a great way to grab some headlines the day before your live TV debate with the other two main party leaders and takes some of the shine off the LibDem manifesto announcement.
(Pic: World Economic Forum cc2.0)