Politicians and their mistakes

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)

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About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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7 Responses to Politicians and their mistakes

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Politicians and their mistakes | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Great article! The Louis Nel quote is my favorite.

    • I love it when a politician says one thing and then says the absolute opposite. I think it was a former Mayor of New York who once said “I didn’t commit a crime, what I did was fail to comply with the law”.

      Whenever I see a good political slip-up like this I write it down and add it to my list. I’ve got over a thousand or so in my notebook now.

  3. I agree with your post – However for me I feel ‘Intellectual Honesty’ missing from those who we put into power.

    The most basic idea has gone a miss by our leaders – leaders are put there to operate this country for us (the general public), not to make the situation for the general public worse.

    • I think the trouble is with a lot of modern politics is that great men/women don’t run for the job anymore as they don’t want it.
      All I really want from a political leader is for them to be honest, competent and ideally smarter than me. That shouldn’t be too muhc to ask.
      However I do think the media have to take a share of the blame for the current situation. They do tend to conentrate on when politicians do bad things as opposed to when they do good. I might start writing a series of blog posting on that very theme, pointing out all the times when politicians have made a positive impact.

      • I suppose the opposite of Media reporting is exactly this – what we are doing – blogging.

        The area of media is tricky – since they only objective is to ‘sell the news’ so its in their interest to report on items that are disliked or arouse some elements of debate. But where this affair gets dangerous is when media is owned and influenced the powerful – the game then is totally different.

        You made the point”..great men/women don’t run for the job anymore..” this is the exact reason why great empires fall, as the jobs are bought and sold by mobs – who then lead the nation to their own agenda. I ask ‘Are we in that situation now?’

      • I think it all comes down to the basic question of what and who defines news. Is it what we’re interested in, what we want to know or what we need to know.

        The concentration of the mass media in the hands of 5 or 6 huge transnational companies is probably one of the more damaging trends of the past twenty years although you could argue that this power allows them to stand up to governments.

        The US constitution was created by men who were terrified by autocratic government on the one hand and mob rule on the other. Therefore they tried to create a political system that allowed people to articulate their interests while at the same time restraining their passions. However I think the power of interest groups, businesses and the media have probably over-balanced the system a bit too much in their favour. People need to take a more positive interest in political participation and engage more. I don’t know quite how that would work but I’d be interested in hearing your views on it.

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