Bill Clinton admitted mistakes in US foreign policy
"Mistakes have been made" has become the mantra of the age, it seems.
Ministers, business leaders and economists have been forced to own up to error by the sheer scale of the economic crash and the undeniable inexcusability of certain expense claims. But if they were expecting quick forgiveness, it hasn't come.
In May, Gordon Brown admitted that mistakes were made by MPs in their use of House of Commons expenses.
And the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, recently wrote that the NHS needs to admit its failures, apologise more often "and needs to learn to mean it".
Some public figures find it easier than others to own up to errors. Bill Clinton, though famously reticent about his private life, still admitted that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was "inappropriate" and that "I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned". And in the political sphere he apologised for American policy in Rwanda and El Salvador.
Philosopher Julian Baggini has written
an article for Demos
calling for a more honest relationship with error-making in public. "More mature mistake culture is particularly important when it comes to politics," he writes.
"On the one hand, politics is one of the spheres of human activity where mistakes are least likely to be admitted. At the same time, failure in politics is often inevitable".
So, do you think that public figures should admit their mistakes? Or is it better to observe Neville Chamberlain's old maxim: "Never complain, never explain, never apologise"?
Charles Rennie Mackintosh made the following comment on mistakes: "There is hope in honest error, not in the icy perfection of the mere stylist." John Stather, Stoke on Trent
Of course politicians make errors, just like everybody else. The difference is that when we make individual errors, the fallout is confined to ourselves and anybody else who is directly involved. When politicians make mistakes large numbers of, or even the entire population, cops it. While government is necessary to address issues that, as individuals, we can not - defence and foreign affairs spring immediately to mind - their power over the rest of our lives should be severely curtailed. This would let us live our lives the way we choose and learn to accept the consequences of our actions. It would also, at a stroke, slash public spending by reducing bureaucracy and sparing us the consequences of wasteful government cock-ups. James Francis, Tintagel, Cornwall
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