Sorry seems to be the hardest word

BEFORE we go any further, I should like to apologise.First, I'd like to apologise to Mateja Kezman, Chelsea footballer, for suggesting in this column recently that he had little grasp of the English language.

BEFORE we go any further, I should like to apologise.

First, I'd like to apologise to Mateja Kezman, Chelsea footballer, for suggesting in this column recently that he had little grasp of the English language. Or was it football?

I'd like also to apologise to George W Bush, for suggesting he had little grasp of football - real football, that is, not the version of rugby in spacesuits they play in his homeland. Or was it the English language? (Sorry, George, you may have lost me there, but I trust most readers will get my drift.)

I'd like to say sorry to all the people who continue, against all the evidence, to think that every word in the Bible is literally true. I may, on various occasions, have hinted that I consider such people to be ignorant. Or barking mad. Or both.

I should like to apologise to people who choose to drive off-road vehicles on-road. To people who think chasing and killing animals is fun - and that trying to stop them doing this is somehow in contravention of their “human rights”. And to people who think dropping bombs on other people is a way of making them “free”.

All these people may, at various times, have felt that the views expressed in this column were not exactly in tune with their own.

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To people who think holding the Olympics in Britain would be a good idea, I'd just like to say sorry for rocking the boat. And to Ellen MacArthur, sorry I didn't hail you when your boat came in.

I should like to apologise to Tony Blair. For everything.

And to everyone else I may have scorned, mocked or insulted at some time - and forgotten now.

And if you think, perhaps, that the apologies above are not entirely offered in a spirit of genuine contrition and regret, you'd be right.

Still, I've said sorry now. So that's OK.

It really wasn't too difficult. So how come Ken Livingstone can't apologise to the reporter he likened to a “concentration camp guard”?

I blame the parents, you know. I bet Mr and Mrs Livingstone drummed it into their little Ken that it wasn't good enough just to say you were sorry, you had to mean it.

So now we have the honourable Mayor of London saying: “I could apologise but why should I say words I do not believe in my heart?”

Honourable, you see. That's the trouble.

Somewhere in all this, the fact that the Evening Standard clearly has it in for Ken is in danger of being lost - except by Ken himself. It's probably really the reporter who should be apologising to the mayor.

The idea that Ken Livingstone's a racist is absurd. More absurd even than the idea that Labour's scrapped election poster showing Howard and Oliver Letwin as flying pigs was meant to be anti-Semitic.

In both cases, the only anti-Semitism comes from the muck-rakers who have tried to blow up these insignificant matters into scandals.

So I have every sympathy with Ken's refusal to say sorry when he doesn't mean it. But it is also a stubborn over-reaction that plays right into the hands of his opponents.

For once, I think Tony Blair is right. He says the “simple answer” would be for Livingstone to swallow his pride and just say sorry.

It's all the rage now, you know - apologising.

Remember Boris Johnson and the people of Liverpool? Or Blair himself and the families of the Guildford Four, who were wrongly imprisoned 31 years ago for a bombing they did not commit.

To serve 15 years in jail for a crime you had nothing to do with is a grievous wrong. But how does it help to get an apology years later from a man who had equally nothing to do with the case?

Still, it sets an interesting precedent.

Perhaps Mr Blair's mate over the water would now like to apologise to the former tribes of America for their extermination by the invading white man.

Blair himself could say sorry for all the wrongs committed in the name of the British Empire (though his neighbour Gordon has already said that shouldn't be necessary).

And to the people of Iraq for telling porkies to the people of Britain. But perhaps that's taking it a bit far. Sorry.