The Blog

The Penitent Have Taken Over The Asylum.

Archbishop Welby, the chap that, in his work costume, looks like a luminous yellow chess piece from space, has said that the church should apologise to gay people because of the way it has treated them. I expect he won't have to speak very loudly, or go very far to do so.

Archbishop Welby, the chap that, in his work costume, looks like a luminous yellow chess piece from space, has said that the church should apologise to gay people because of the way it has treated them. I expect he won't have to speak very loudly, or go very far to do so. The only thing that seems more gay than the religion business is the Marines. No, not the Marines, I mean politics. No wait, not politics - theatre. Yes, that's it: theatre. Sorry about that.

The arch Archbishop has a head start in the repentance game, as the British are the most apologetic people on Earth, if you will forgive me for saying so.

We Brits are the only people who apologise when someone stands on OUR foot. It's a wonder we did not send down leaflets expressing our regret when we opened the bomb bay doors over Dresden.

This is one of the few myths about the British that bears scrutiny in the real world. Ones like always stopping for tea at three and being wizard at badminton, do not. And neither does the one about us using words like "wizard". That was just Terry Thomas and P. G. Wodehouse.

Politicians, especially important ones, spend practically their entire time apologising for one thing or another, often for events and actions that are so buried in the sands of history that even the internet can't remember anything about them.

Since becoming PM, David Cameron has said sorry for so many things that he should get a message of atonement on his answer machine: "Hi, this is Dave. I can't get to the phone at the moment as I am dabbing on some sun burn lotion, but I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincerest regret to you and anyone you know or will know in the future about whatever it is you are calling about, regardless of whether it was my fault or not. And I am REALLY sorry about those pictures of me squeezing into my swimming costume".

Before he even started his tenure in office, he was apologising for the cack-handedness of Dear Prudence, the storm force gale that was steering the economy off the edge of the world. He said that he was sorry that he had not warned Gordon Brown that he was, in the Scottish vernacular, a numpty who should not be put in charge of a parish fête.

A full year before Cameron took the reins of the country, he was apologising to the gay community for Section 28, something that Margaret Thatcher brought in that is now being studiously and enthusiastically copied by the comically macho Russian premier Vlad the Insaner. I have not done the maths, but Maggie's dictum was enacted so long ago that Dave was probably still fagging at Eton, so to speak.

When Desperate Dave took high office, his shows of contrition really took flight. Since he became PM, he has single handedly kept alive the reputation for atonement for which our country's citizens are rightly famous. He has shown contrition for events that he had no hand in whatsoever: Hillsborough, for instance.

Other things he has apologised for at least happened, in part, while he was in No.10, like the Staffordshire hospital scandal but he has also shown remorse for events that occurred before he and even his parents were alive, like the sort-of apology he offered to the victims of the Amritsar massacre of 1919.

He is not alone in revealing the extent to which he is consumed with guilt. Some institutions are so conversant with the rules of the public apology that they should have them written on T-shirts. The religion business is currently begging for forgiveness for so many unpleasant acts that it is a wonder its knees haven't worn out.

Similarly, the banking racket is publicly apologetic about...well...everything they have ever done and some things that they have not even tried yet. Charities are sorry that they used the public's donations to fund their executive's fabulous lifestyles, the MOD is sorry that the reason you can not get through to them is because they are all on the phone to the speaking clock and the Home Office would like to say sorry that it left a lap top containing intimate details of your every waking moment on a train and lost the lot. And the train company would like to express its regret for the 5.15 from Victoria being delayed because of the wrong kind of air on the line.

Your favourite periodical would like to apologise for every single word it has written, particularly if it concerned the royal family. OK magazine recently splashed a picture of the blessed Kate on its front page and observed that she was not back to her pre-baby weight a full two days after giving birth. Even in glossy magazine land, such criticism was deemed not OK, and they begged her forgiveness.

Newspapers are usually so chock full of corrections and contrition that they have entire departments and a permanent space in their organs dedicated to their dissemination.

The Sun newspaper, which has more to apologise for than most, recently reported that alien space ships had been seen flying over a Scientology head quarters building. After contact from the organisation's legal representatives, they duly offered an apology to...the aliens. I'm not sure The Sun has quite got the hang of this contrition business, but practice will make perfect.

This all seems terribly British. We are so comfortable using the word that it has lost its meaning. We use it instead of "what" or "pardon" when we have not heard what someone has said to us; we use it when we are not sorry at all but are expressing our displeasure or taking something that is not ours, like someone else's place in a queue.

When politicians offer their apologies for things that were not their fault, and organisations say they are sorry for actions that they fully intended to do, and hoped they would get away with, it hardly means anything any more.

Sorry does not seem to be the hardest word at all. Elton John is wrong. And I would like to apologise to him for pointing that out.

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