After telling his famous lie to Parliament, Jack Profumo devoted the last 40 years of his life to helping at a hostel for the homeless in the East End of London. It was his way of seeking to take responsibility for a lapse of judgment and personal failings.
How different things are today. Dr Rajendra Pachhauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change says he will not apologise for a fallacious claim made in a report by his organisation that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. “You cannot expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000 page report,” he tells the Guardian. True enough if the mistake was of molehill proportions, but we are talking about an XL cock up here. According to the panel’s own description, the glaciers form the largest body of ice outside the polar caps and act as a reservoir serving the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems that support millions of people living in South Asian countries. A statement issued by the IPCC says the wider conclusion of the report is robust but it “regrets the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance.” Were these people not told by their mathematics teachers to show their working out?
Last week at the Chilcot Inquiry, Sir Michael Wood who was the chief legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when the decision was taken to go to war with Iraq explained to the panel why he did not resign over his doubts about the legality of invasion. His colleague Elizabeth Wilmshurst did resign as a matter of conscience because the proposed course of military action amounted in her view to “a crime of aggression”.
Sir Michael said he had been expecting that question and argued that resignation was a matter of personal conscience and, besides, he didn’t actually have to defend the decision to go to war personally. The logical consequence of this argument is that you can do what you want if you think you will never need to answer for it. Sir Michael retired in 2006.
And today Toyota has been embarrassed into making an apology over the recall of millions of its vehicles over an apparent fault with the accelerator pedal on certain models. And the best Miguel Fonseca, managing director of Toyota GB can come up with is to say he is sorry for the concern felt by his customers. As grudging apologies go this is a corker.
Still we live in hope that the Chelsea and England player John Terry will make a full mea culpa, forsake his £170,000 weekly wage and start slopping out at a soup kitchen near Cobham. Watch this space.