Sorry is the hardest word

The following is a guest post by Roger Helmer, a former MEP and a former Chairman of The Freedom Association. 

As the old song puts it, “Sorry is the hardest word to say”.  It’s also dangerously ambiguous.  If I accidentally step on a friend’s toe, I say “Sorry”, and I mean that I accept it was my fault, I regret it and I apologise.  If on the other hand my friend gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, I also say “Sorry” – but I mean something quite different.  I mean that I deeply regret the news and sympathise with the friend.  But I don’t accept responsibility, because I didn’t cause the cancer.  And I don’t apologise, because it is not something I did, and to apologise for something one did not do is an empty, pointless and vacuous gesture.

So with slavery.  I greatly regret that Britain was involved in the slave trade, and that Britons and British companies profited from slavery (whilst also remembering that virtually all races and nations in history have owned and traded slaves – this is not a black and white issue).  But I don’t apologise for it, because like everyone else in Britain today, I didn’t do it.  It was abolished by the UK in 1833.  I was born 111 years later.  And I take great pride (for my country, not for myself) in the fact that the UK was the first country in the world to abolish slavery; that the Royal Navy played a pivotal and sustained rôle in interdicting the trade in the Atlantic; and that Britain stumped up a huge amount of money to compensate owners for freeing the slaves (not that slave-owners had any moral right to the money, but without it the slaves would not have been freed).  The words “ransom” and “redemption” spring to mind.

So we come to the issue of kneeling – or as we have to call it today, “Taking the knee”.  Dominic Raab was clearly right when he said it implied subjugation. He was spot on in his first comments (apart from his “Game of Thrones” reference), and I very much regretted that he felt obliged to back-pedal when facing the predictable Twitter onslaught.  Kneeling also suggests contrition and apology, and is therefore inappropriate, since no one living today is responsible for slavery.  I recently retweeted a graphic showing a kneeling soldier, in profile, against a Union Jack backdrop, with the slogan “I stand for the flag; I kneel for the fallen”.  I was very sorry to see Labour politicians, including Leader Sir Keir Starmer, “taking the knee”, and I hope not to see Conservative MPs following suit.

Of course there are circumstances in which it may be appropriate to kneel.  Some Christians kneel to pray.  I greatly admire the 1901 painting “The Accolade”, by Edmund Blair Leighton, which shows a Mediæval knight, kneeling at the feet of a princess who dubs him with a sword (I have the jig-saw puzzle).  I am also the proud owner of a large-ish art nouveau bronze representing a bare-breasted maiden, down on one knee, hand raised to her rather elaborate head-band.  She looks great.  But I was utterly sickened to see the video clip on social media of a uniformed policeman, on his knees and kissing the boots of a protester.  I contrast his behaviour with that of the officers who arrived promptly at the scene of the recent atrocity in Reading, and reportedly took down the knife-man who had just killed three people and injured many more, with a rugby tackle.  That is the sort of policing we need – and we should defend it, not defund it.  We have had enough of appeasement, of boot-licking, of Tik-Tok videos.  “Taking the knee”?  

Dom Raab hastened to say he “had full respect for BLM”.  Personally, I have no respect at all for a nihilistic, anarchistic, iconoclastic Marxist agit-prop group dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, of our institutions, of the family, and to the defunding of the police, the closure of prisons and the destruction of our history and heritage.

I am saddened that the dons of Oriel College have betrayed their duty to protect the statue of their main benefactor – a man who explicitly ruled out any racial discrimination in the award of his scholarships. But I am amused to read that where the dons failed, local planning laws may still protect the statue in a listed building.  

But then, right on cue, up pops Lord Adonis, preposterously calling for the removal of Cromwell’s statue outside the House of Commons. .   For heaven’s sake. There are many reasons why we might condemn Cromwell, from his carnage in Ireland to Regicide, but he was a key figure in British history and a towering parliamentarian, and to remove him, like an out-of-favour Soviet apparatchik air-brushed from a Politburo photograph, would be a crime against history.  If Cromwell is removed, how about Richard Cœur de Lion’s superb equestrian statue?  Nelson?  Queen Victoria?  Where does the madness end?  Time for this Conservative government to get a grip.  Enough is enough.  And the great majority of the British people will applaud a firm stand against the iconoclasts.

All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.

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  • Hugh Eveleigh
    commented 2020-06-28 09:48:46 +0100
    Thank you Mr Helmer for writing what I always knew you did write when you were more in the fray: common sense with reasonable and sustainable argument. I concur with all you say and suspect that I am one of a large majority who agree with you.