When it comes to being in the public eye, sorry, it would seem, is indeed the hardest word.
There will always be wayward politicians, that much seems certain. Similarly, there will always be those indignant on the side-lines, waiting patiently for the opportunity to insist that reparations are made. More often than not, the latter will win out.
So for the not-so-well-versed political wrong-doer, here are the un-official rules of the political apology:
1. Timing – The most important aspect in any political apology is the timing. Some would say that guilt is the most important factor but in today’s imperfect world, that simply isn’t the case.
The general rule of thumb is one week. If in 7 days the story hasn’t fizzled out, a public apology is now the best form of damage control.
If, on the other hand, the potency of the story seems to be on the wane, a full-scale public remuneration could be just the catalyst needed to get the scandal brewing again.
Timing is of the utmost importance.
2. Never accept fault – A furrowed brow, a well-stocked array of genial clichés and an apology that doesn’t actually accept any personal responsibility whatsoever; that’s the apologists’ cookbook.
Particularly pertinent here are phrases such as “I’m sorry if anyone was offended”, “I’m sorry if my comments were misconstrued” and “I can see how it may have looked”.
The real masters of the political apology will leave scope here for their political opponents to come off looking out of touch or as if they didn’t understand what was being said in the first place.
3. Don’t apologise for a third party – Chances are you will only end up alienating both sides of the argument. Regardless whether it’s your drunken spouse, impertinent children or mildly-sexist chief whip, apologising for the actions of others only makes yourself look weaker.
It’s always best to remain on the side-lines, disapproving silently for as long as possible without being drawn in to the debate. If the ‘plebgate’ controversy taught us anything – other than the evident fallibility of Westminster police – it’s that there is always a danger in being reactionary towards someone else’s supposed guilt.
Exceptions to this rule include but are not necessarily limited to historical, state-sponsored atrocities.
4. Don’t make a cheesy apology video – This seems to be more popular in American politics but as the video above shows, viral apologies seem to be making waves into UK politics now too.
From the elevator music to the nauseating, doughy-eyed close up, apology videos benefit no-one and with the possible exception of an 80s era pre-presidential Bill Clinton, they’ve never actually helped a politician to gain credence with voters.
There’s also a risk that internet pranksters might get their hands on it and ‘songify’ your apology into the summer’s biggest hit.
5. The Language – This is perhaps the single most difficult part. The aim is to be as contrite as possible and get the apology out of the way whilst still sounding authentic, humble and believable.
If the wrong has been done to a specific individual, the public apology should contain an aside where a personal apology is reiterated.
The forgiveness of that individual is likely to be key to how the politician survives the scandal and offers a cue to the public on how to react.
When it comes down to it, that’s what the political apology is really all about; forgiveness. That’s the biggest rule of all. If the people you’ve wronged come out the other end thinking you’re not really such a bad guy after all, you’ve done a good job.