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WITH my eyes downcast, I would stand in front of a scowling, disapproving parent or teacher and, in a mumbling voice, mutter a grudging: "Sorry."

The apology was usually insincere, of course, spoken only to avoid the consequences of whatever ill I was perceived to have done.

I was seldom truly sorry for having snapped back rudely to my mother, kicked the cat, flicked saliva-soaked paper pellets across a classroom or pulled the tempting ponytail of that nauseating lisping girl sitting in front of me.

Thus excuse me if I take with a large pinch of sodium chloride two apologies that were made last week by public figures.

An obscure Government minister called Lord Freud and a somewhat dated television presenter called Judy Finnigan found themselves embroiled in a media storm and social media over comments they made.

Lord Freud - who, though I did not know it, is in charge of welfare reform - was, apparently, "profoundly sorry" for saying that some disabled people should be paid less then the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Ms Finnigan was sorry for pointing out on the low-brow TV show Loose Women that footballer Ched Evans' rape was of a drunken woman and did not involve violence.

Others must judge the merits of what Lord Freud and Ms Finnigan said, for I wish not to be ensnared in either controversy.

What these cases illustrate, however, are two fascinating and alarming aspects of modern life.

First is the intolerance of many people towards anyone who says anything of which they disapprove and of how, in a world dominated by speedy communication and access to internet forums which give voice to those with ill-formed opinions and appalling grammar, a witch-hunt can instantly ensure.

The second is how craven are the loudmouths who spout controversial views and then - perhaps because of the mighty corporate or political machines surrounding them, perhaps because they wish not to risk the money and status they have - immediately say sorry.

What are we to make of the apologies of Lord Freud and Ms Finnigan? Are they saying that they did not actually hold the views they expressed, but spoke rashly and without proper consideration? Are they saying that after wise counsel they have changed their opinions? Rather, I suspect, they are simply saying: "Oh blast. I've landed myself in hot water. I don't want to lose my job. Maybe it'll all blow over if I say I'm sorry."

Certainly it was noticeable that Lord Freud's sorry came pretty swiftly after the issue erupted in the House of Commons and this nation's spin-conscious Prime Minister had, it was reported, threatened him with the sack.

What we have learned without doubt over the past few days is that the utterings of public figures are often without substance and that this so-called 'connected' hi-tech world can cause storms to erupt in moments, causing spin doctors to scurry to their lap-tops to bash out a script in which a grudging apology will be made.

Meanwhile, after the discovery of previously unseen CCTV footage, I would like unreservedly to apologise for drawing a picture of a human backside on the cover of my school pal 'Barney' Ruddle's maths book.

This was a childish and ill-advised prank that was not at all funny and was done at a time when I was under intense personal pressure over the loss of school lunch money. I am truly sorry.


Social media storm: Judy Finnigan

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 19, 2014
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