« | Home | »

Lib Dems: A Sorry Lot

Tags: | |

Being told to say sorry for my wrongdoings was my introduction to the double bind. I got the hang of how it worked, but never figured any way out of it. ‘Don’t just stand there. Haven’t you got anything to say for yourself?’ It became clear pretty quickly that a rational discussion of the pros and cons of my misdemeanour was not what the parent had in mind. ‘Well? And you haven’t even got the decency to say sorry.’ Deep breath while I prepared myself for entering the mire. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘No you’re not. You’re just saying that, because you think you should.’ This was almost always true. I was certainly sorry for the trouble I was in, but rarely sorry in a contrite way. It would go on like this. The demand for an apology, the apology, the rejection of the apology and further fury until some punishment was decided on and I was sent in disgrace to my room.

Sometimes there was a variation. ‘Sorry.’ ‘What good is that? Saying sorry won’t stop the cup being broken, the neighbours from complaining about your noise, bring back the cat you hanged.’ That last is an exaggeration. But I understood the logic of this. What was the point of saying sorry? It didn’t change anything. It certainly didn’t mean that I would never do anything again that got me in trouble, because most of the time I hadn’t intended whatever it was to happen the way it did, or my pleasure in doing it outweighed the distress it would cause my parent. Sorry seemed so pointless. Just a show. But it was insisted on. And then disbelieved. ‘Do you mean it? You don’t mean it.’

Sorry was the hardest word because no one believed it. Not the culprit nor the accuser. One thing young people hate is hypocrisy. Every time I said I was sorry, a fairy folded its wings and died. The grown-ups who demanded it were fairy-killers, and I hated them for it.

Lord Rennard had not the faintest idea that there was anything wrong with touching the body of a woman co-worker, especially, as one of his supporters pointed out, ‘through clothing’. He knows that he has nothing to say sorry for. He is prepared to do the marvellously meaningless public wriggle thing: ‘If ever I have hurt, embarrassed or upset anyone, then it would never have been my intention and, of course, I regret that they may have felt any hurt, embarrassment or upset.’ But then he went and made doubly sure it was clearly not an apology. ‘But for the reasons given, I will not offer an apology to the four women complainants. I do not believe that people should be forced to say what they know they should not say, or do not mean.’

Two of the women complaining have said that they wouldn’t take legal action if Rennard said he was sorry. Rennard has been advised against this since it would admit guilt and make him liable. I can’t understand why an apology, even if a sincere apology were possible at this point, would be acceptable. Or perhaps, just like my mother, they plan their next move: you don’t really mean it. In fact, one of them added that she didn’t want a ‘politician’s apology if it was not sincere’. And since he’s already said he wouldn’t mean it, we’re back to the old apology stand-off I know so well.

I never tried the Rennard tactic with my parents. ‘If I have hurt or embarrassed you…’ It would have occasioned a slapped face. Because in those days, people whacked their kids to improve them, just as they harmlessly put their hands up women’s skirts, tweaked their nipples and, a particular favourite of Italian men, apparently, pinched their bottoms. In the grand scheme of things, Michael White told us, the fuss about a wandering hand in the office is out of all proportion. And to give more weight to his weighty argument White suggested that the grand scheme of things included female genital mutilation and slavery, thus proving that he was as feminist as the next man. What was ‘the hysterical language’ over ‘a clammy hand on the knee’ compared to that?

Polly Toynbee tried to explain to White and others about sexual harassment of  women in the workplace and the endless entitlement of men (not just six years ago) who think they can control women by treating them as things. One of the complainants was advised, when she started work, to be ‘friendly and flirty’ with Chris Rennard as it would ‘help me politically if he noticed me’. As far as I can see, it has been men (and Ann Leslie) who have defended Rennard on the grounds of his having made a minor infraction of good manners. ‘Hysterical,’ says White. ‘Shrill,’ says Clegg. You get the idea. The Telegraph suspects ‘Nick Clegg’s angry wife, Miriam’ (she’s foreign, and a woman, hot blooded, and a woman and a lawyer and foreign) of being behind Clegg’s harassment of his lordship.

Still, as I write, the Lib Dems are trying to find a form of words Rennard and his ‘victims’ can agree to that would make the frightfulness go away. But Rennard has now announced that he is himself the victim, suffering from the same symptoms – depression, a wish to self-harm – that people who have experienced sexual abuse are said to suffer from. I can’t really remember how all those conversations with my mother resolved themselves, after the slap and punishment. I suppose everyone sulked and then, being together in a very small flat, finally just had to get on with getting on with it. The analogy looks as if it might hold up for the Lib Dems, apart from the physical violence, obviously. Lessons have been learned.

Comments on “Lib Dems: A Sorry Lot”

  1. philip proust says:

    Jenny Diski’s contribution to the debate would have been even more interesting had she suggested an appropriate punishment – jail, a fine, atonement through Profuma-style community work, resignation or some combination of the aforementioned – for Lord Rennard’s behaviour.

  2. streetsj says:

    I look at that picture of him and think he should be sent to bed without any supper.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement