Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, either saying or doing the wrong thing. When this happens we either realise it ourselves, or someone points it out to us. Hopefully we learn from these errors and get on with our lives the best we can. The main difference between the public and politicians though, is when politicians get it wrong it’s often on the record, meaning it will be repeated over and over on TV and in print. Yesterday two political figures on opposite sides of the Atlantic both made mistakes that have been widely covered in the press today
Howard Flight’s comments about the poor
In Britain Conservative Howard Flight gave an interview to the London Evening Standard where he stated that cuts in welfare benefits would encourage “breeding” amongst the poor. After the resignation of Lord Young just a week earlier, you’d have thought Conservative peers would have learnt to be a bit more careful when talking to journalists. In this case his comments were doubly unhelpful, partly because it guarantees another weekend of bad headlines for David Cameron, but also because it helps give the impression that the Conservatives are the party of the rich middle classes. He swiftly apologised and Cameron is now doing his best to ignore the matter. There have been some calls for Howard’s peerage to be blocked but this is unlikely as Cameron can’t afford to lose two people in just under a week. Situations like that tend to create an unhealthy political momentum of their own.
Sarah Palin’s foreign policy gaffe
In America Sarah Palin was being interviewed on Fox News. She was asked about the current foreign policy situation and declared that the USA had to stand by it ally North Korea. In this case she was quickly corrected by the interviewer Glenn Beck. Now anyone can make a mistake like this and it was obviously just a slip of the tongue. However this is particularly problematic for Palin as she has a poor record when talking about foreign policy, for instance her 2008 interview with Katie Couric. Therefore her comments just compounded the image some had of her, as being intellectually unprepared to be Commander-in-chief. She still has two years to try to turn this impression around but she can’t afford to keep making mistakes like this.
I suppose the lesson of all this is that politicians should always be incredibly cautious when talking to journalists. Just for fun here is ten of my favourite political one-liners where politicians don’t quite manage to say what they actually mean:
“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all– the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder” – Richard Daley (Mayor of Chicago)
“It is clear our nation is reliant upon big foreign oil. More and more of our imports come from overseas” – George W Bush (US President)
“You know, I think you may have noticed that Senator Obama’s supporters have been saying some pretty nasty things about Western Pennsylvania lately. And you know, I couldn’t agree with them more” – John McCain (US Presidential candidate)
“Tony Banks described the English fans arrested in Marseilles as brain-dead louts – that goes for me as well” - Harriet Harman (British Cabinet Minister)
“We do not have censorship. What we have is a limitation on what newspapers can report” – Louis Nel (South African politician)
“China is a big country; inhabited by many Chinese” – Charles De Gaulle (French President)
“If Lincoln were alive today he’d be turning over in his grave” – Gerald Ford (US President)
“I didn’t say that I didn’t say it. I said that I didn’t say that I said it. I want to make that very clear” - George Romney (Governor of Michigan)
“Solutions are not the answer” – Richard Nixon (US President)
“Look I’ve got my old pledge card a bit battered and crumpled, we said we’d provide more turches churches teachers and we have.I can remember when people used to say the Japanese are better than us,the Germans are better than us,the French are better than us well it’s great to be able to say we’re better than them.I think Mr Kennedy well we all congratulate on his baby and the Tories are you remembering what I’m remembering boom and bust negative equity, remember Mr Howard,I mean are you thinking what I’m thinking I’m remembering, it’s all a bit wonky isn’t it?” – John Prescott (British Deputy Prime Minister)