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The sorry state of the modern apology

31 July 2021

9:00 AM

31 July 2021

9:00 AM

I think I would like to apologise for this article in case someone who reads it takes offence. I will not mean the apology, of course — it will simply be an attempt to get me out of the mess occasioned by own words. It will not get me out of the mess, however, but make things worse, because an apology is an admission of guilt.

This is Type One of the Modern Apology — meaningless and counter-productive, usually something enforced by employers or party bosses, people in charge. A desperate attempt to save one’s skin which always, always, does the reverse. It is usually accompanied by a painful explanation, along the lines of: ‘I deeply apologise for any offence I may have caused. In my tweet last night I had meant to say that Chinese people were “lovely”. Inexplicably I typed the word “ghastly” instead. Anybody who knows me will attest to my total commitment to anti-racism. I have been under great stress recently and am currently wrestling with my demons (will this do, ed?).’

Type Two of the Modern Apology is when somebody important, such as the Prime Minister, says sorry for something that happened a long time ago and for which he bore no responsibility whatsoever. It is then every bit as bogus as Type One and indeed worse, because instead of intending to be self-exculpatory it is a merely a variation of that most au courant of fetishes, virtue-signalling. Tony Blair, for example, apologised for slavery and the Irish famine. Mr Blair did not, so far as I am aware, engage in the traffic of slaves and nor did he eat all of those potatoes. With the Type Two apology, everything is seen through the tyranny of Now — stripped of context and sometimes stripped of all truth.

Boris Johnson is currently being coerced to deliver a Type Two apology. This regards those women who, between 1945 and 1975, were ‘forced’ to give up their children for adoption because they were young single mothers. I put the word ‘forced’ in inverted commas because while that is what an awful lot of the women bitterly claim, it is not quite ‘forced’ in my book. It was more part of an ineluctable process — an expression of the times in which pretty much everyone with whom those young mums came into contact thought — knew — adoption was for the best: their own parents, the doctors, the nurses, the midwives, the social services departments, the church. So an apology now would have to concede that everybody back then got it completely wrong, whereas today we have it entirely right.


Australia’s former prime minister, Julia Gillard, has already made exactly this kind of apology and now the pressure is mounting on Boris to do the same. But if Boris is a true Conservative he will do precisely the opposite. He will make a statement commending the past for its pastoral care towards infants and make a profound — and sincere — apology to the hundreds of thousands of British children (and now adults) who have been brought up in single-parent households over the past 40 years and who have had to live with the consequences of that.

I do not doubt the hurt now felt by some of the women who gave up their babies. The priority before, however, was not the mother but the child — and also, as a corollary, society. Our more enlightened, liberal society wished to remove the stigma from single parenthood and we transferred our concern from the outcomes for the child and society to the sensibilities of the women involved. As a consequence many, many more lives have been blighted.

The number of children who grow up in single-parent households in the UK has broadly doubled since 1970, from 9 per cent to close on 25 per cent. As every social study on the subject I have ever read confirms, children brought up in single-parent households are liable to live in poverty. They have a much greater propensity for low educational achievement and thus a poverty which will afflict them through their lives. They are more prone to anxiety and depression. They are more likely to use recreational drugs and much more likely to become involved in crime. In short, they are sentenced by our newly benevolent attitude towards single parenthood to lives of deprivation, underachievement, criminal records and mental anguish. This is not a reflection upon the worthiness of the single mums themselves — simply that children do best when brought up by two parents who are married.

The cost of this indulgence is staggering. Never mind the damage to society caused by those failed kids, more than 70 per cent of single-parent families rely upon tax credits and welfare payments simply to get by. In the USA, where the proportion of kids in single-parent families compared with two-parent families is one in three, single parents cost a third of the entire welfare bill. Studies in the USA also suggest a direct correlation between the growth in single-parent families and the increase in welfare benefits available to them.

The left over here regularly screams that the poor outcomes for the children of single parents is simply a consequence of poverty. This is not true — even when weighted for income, kids with two parents do much better. But poverty undoubtedly is in the mix — and the left’s simplistic demand, therefore, is to increase those subsidies. And thus increase the number of claimants? A better answer might be to provide tax incentives to married couples… but who would dare suggest that, these days?

The past is indeed a different country — and sometimes things were done a lot better in it. Something to remember then when once again we get down upon our knees to apologise for history.

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