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Don't apologise for being sorry

IN the space of two short weeks, Barack Obama has shown Gordon Brown what leadership means.

When you make a mistake that’s horribly obvious to everyone — say ‘sorry’ and correct it.

That’s what the President did last week. And that’s what our PM needs to do over the economy.

It’s now clear to everyone — from shop cashiers to Nicholas Sarkozy — that Brown’s medicine has failed. His economic ‘stability’ was a house of cards that has collapsed. The VAT cut was useless.

So should our PM (a) pretend that he has ‘saved the world’ or (b) admit his error and think again?

Brown likes to borrow Obama’s “yes we can” message. But the President had three new words: “I screwed up.” He did: he nominated as his health secretary someone who had dodged some taxes. Hardly a scandal.

But Obama was making a crucial point: leadership means recognising mistakes, then correcting them quickly. Even Brown’s friends say this is the one thing he cannot do. It’s like he’s been programmed not to admit error.

He sold the nation’s gold eight years ago at 275 dollars an ounce. It’s now 910 dollars an ounce. Simple mistake, surely?

Nope, our PM will argue (with room-emptying conviction) that he did exactly the right thing.

It’s delusional. His aides say that in the ‘war room’ he’s built in Downing Street, he still blames America for the recession.

That’s why Americans are right to boot out all presidents after eight years. Leaders eventually become wedded to errors.

Most politicians have three or four great ideas. Problem is, they get through them terrifyingly quickly. Obama has plenty. Imposing pay freezes for the top-paid civil servants. Denying bonuses at taxpayer-financed banks.

Now, I am not worshipping at the altar of Obamessiah. It’s just an example of what fresh thinking can do.

David Cameron says he has that fresh thinking. But to prove it, then HE has to show he can admit his errors. After all, he bought into the Brown myth and pledged to copy the PM’s ruinously expensive spending plans.

That’s why Cam can’t say “I told you so” now — he didn’t. None of his team spotted the bubble about to burst. We need to know: does Cam have an Obama-style ability to admit failure? Or a Brown-style stubborn vanity?

From what I know of Cam, I’d say his greatest strength is his ability to drop bad ideas, to change course. You won’t hear him say “hug a hoodie” again, for example. But he changes tack quietly, discreetly.

Cam tried a bat-squeak of an apology a few weeks ago. Not many noticed. He needs to shout it, proudly.

Any military commander knows that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy.

Thinking on your feet, swallowing pride and junking mistakes, is the only way to win. The same in politics.

So Cam should say sorry. Say precisely where and why he failed to see this massive recession coming. Then he should say to Gordo: “I’ve admitted my mistakes. Why can’t you?” Politics is in a state of flux. No one, a year ago, could have predicted where we are today.

I’m not saying uncertain times call for uncertain leadership. But adaptability now is crucial.

For most British politicians, an apology is a suicide pill only to be taken in resignation speeches.

Sorry may be the hardest word. But if we’re to get out of this mess, it’s the most important one.

AS for Jeremy Clarkson, I don’t think for a moment he’s sorry. I suspect he only “apologised” to get his insult — “one-eyed Scottish idiot” — on every TV channel and newspaper. Worked a treat.

I AM in the process of being formally denounced by the Scottish Parliament for referring to two Glasgow estates as “scummy”.

We’re talking about places where life expectancy is lower than North Korea, where drug abuse is rampant and the threat of crime everywhere. It’s an outrage anyone has to live in such places. So I do apologise.

“Scummy” really isn’t nearly a strong enough word.

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