In politics, the initial error is often compounded by a refusal to accept total responsibility. And so it was during an “excruciating” 25-minute press briefing for lobby journalists this morning.
This morning saw Gordon Brown’s spokesman refused to concede that Brown had made mistakes in a letter sent to the grieving mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan. (See this morning’s Sun front page).
One FT colleague who was there (I confess I wasn’t) said it was the most grim lobby briefing for several years, with hacks incredulous at the refusal to concede a personal apology. Instead the spokesman apologised for the fact that the mother had been upset.
The biggest mistake in the letter was the mis-spelling of “Mrs Janes” (he mis-spelled it as Mrs James). Of course, there are issues over the prime minister’s poor handwriting which may stem from his poor sight. Some of the supposed mistakes identified by The Sun look more like handwriting issues than bona fide mistakes. But the name was definitely wrong.
Brown does not seem capable of unqualified apologies.
Here is his statement, issued just a few minutes ago (with my italics):
“I take very seriously my responsibility to the bereaved. Every time I write a letter to mothers and fathers and partners who have suffered bereavement to express my sincere condolences, it is a moment of personal sadness to me. And I am in awe of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces.
“I send a handwritten letter to every family and I often write to more than one member of the family.
“I have telephoned Jacqui Janes to apologise for any unintended mistake in the letter.
“To all other families whom I have written to, I can only apologise if my handwriting is difficult to read.
“I have at all times acted in good faith seeking to do the right thing. I do not think anyone will believe that I write letters with any intent to cause offence.”
Iain Dale suggests we should “cut Brown some slack” because he never meant to cause offence. Others have pointed out that he has put considerable time into hand-writing the notes personally. Meanwhile Brown has phoned the mother personally.
The prime minister expressed his remorse at the monthly press conference this morning. But he still did not admit mis-spelling the soldier’s name.
Paul Waugh argues that Brown has dug an ever-deeper hole.