UK Politics

Sorry needn’t be the hardest word to say

BY Guy Corbet   /  9 November 2017

In the dark days of John Major’s 1994 government, a Spectator headline described him as “a man in search of a course off which to be blown”.

The UK had tumbled out of the ERM.  Major was struggling to get the Maastricht Treaty into law, thus becoming the author of Theresa May’s misfortune.  His authority was constantly undermined with each new rumour of a leadership challenge.

His Government was to see the “back to basics” campaign shredded with every crack of a backbencher’s cat’o’nine tails.  And his domestic legacies were to become the ground-breaking Dangerous Dogs Act and flagship initiatives like the traffic cone hotline, for frustrated motorists.

It almost makes the current picture look rosy for the Conservatives.

But not quite.  For they are in danger of being outflanked on both sides, as champions of businesses and of the people.

Corbynites are claiming the moral ascendancy for looking out for the ordinary people who they portray as having been let down by government and the self-serving interests of big business.

At the same time Labour is getting away unchallenged with saying they are for a “Brexit that is good for business and jobs”.  As if Government policy (never mind the remainer rump) is actively against those things.

To ward off these threats, the Conservatives need policies which demonstrate clearly that everything they do can improve the lives of every man, woman and child in the country.

They must show too that they are the party that enables businesses to thrive, providing employment, prosperity for employees and funds for public services.

Those policies also need to be so simple and compelling that they can travel swiftly and untrammelled through parliament and into law.

The recently launched Apology Clause campaign may just be able to thread that needle. It could help set the course that Mrs May has been looking for.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the current little-known law which allows businesses to apologise when something has gone wrong, without putting fear of legal retribution over their sense of moral obligation.

Too often businesses are prevented from doing the right thing.  They are stopped by naturally cautious lawyers who fear that an apology will be seen as an admission of negligence.  Yet the law, specifically, says it does not mean that.

The original law, in the Compensation Act 2006 was loosely drafted though, so the campaigners also want to get it clarified to define better what’s meant by an apology.  This will require primary legislation, and parliamentary time is in short supply.

Apologies are important, not just to the reputation of a business in question.  They can also make a real difference in helping people that have suffered to get over the trauma, to move on and to start rebuilding their lives.  Apologies are vital for helping victims.

In other words, the Apology Clause would be a great piece of legislation for the Government to champion.  Being both business friendly and great for the public, it would defend both its bare flanks.

Even the Lib Dems might struggle to disagree with it.  Indeed, the risk for the Government is that the Lib Dems, or the Corbynites, could seize on the Apology Clause legislation and make it their own.

Guy Corbet (@GuyCorbet) is a communications and marketing consultant, and co-founder of the Apology Clause campaign (www.apologyclause.com)