Apologies are in the news again. Or at least statements made to sound like them.
MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, found herself at the centre of a media storm after an online post dating back to 2010 came back to haunt her. In a lengthy attack on London Assembly member Shaun Bailey, she referred to him as a ‘token ghetto boy’ – and, at the time of writing, the offending piece is still live .
On BBC Radio London, Ms Dent Coad claimed she based her piece on criticism of Mr Bailey made by a constituent. She added: “The point I was making is how he was presenting himself. Some people found it quite distasteful. He was presenting himself as somebody who came from a certain background and that that was his main pitch rather than representing everybody.”
Then came the ‘apology’: “If he feels offended by it, of course I apologise, of course I do,” she said.
Mr Bailey, who said he felt ‘shocked and saddened by the hate-filled racist article’, wrote to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, demanding that disciplinary action should be taken.
The word ‘if’ should never appear in an apology, and if it creeps into a draft you’re working on, you are heading for the rocks. Apologies are about accepting responsibility and acting quickly and genuinely, not inserting qualifications which look insincere.
Despite being a wordsmith himself, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made the same mistake following seriously inaccurate comments that could risk lengthening the sentence of British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, currently in prison in Iran.
“…I acknowledge that the words that I used were open to being misinterpreted and I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I have inadvertently caused them any further anguish.”
There it is again: “if” – a clear attempt to put responsibility back with the person sinned against, rather than the sinner. Qualifications like this indicate you cannot therefore mean what you say.
The public has keen antennae for insincerity, and is invariably unforgiving when it is detected.
It really is all or nothing: say it and mean it, or say nothing.