Passing the buck

TIME was when people said they were sorry if they got it wrong or they were responsible for something going wrong. Nowadays, it’s likely to be you, the innocent party, who gets blamed.

Your vehicle is stationary – another vehicle hits it, and the driver tries to claim it was your fault. Even if he/she was irrefutably in the wrong, insurance companies insist they shouldn’t accept liability so that they can try to wriggle out of paying for your crunched car.

Perhaps there never really was a time when it was de rigueur to accept the blame if it was your fault – other than in the honour culture of pre-war Japan or the heyday of the Roman Republic (I’ve just finished reading the last part of Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy, and falling on your sword was falling out of fashion with all but the most high-minded nobles even in those days.)

Of course human nature (sadly) doesn’t change or improve, but there is a greedy self-centredness about these times that seems to make it even rarer for anyone to take responsibility for their actions.

Take Andrea Leadsom, who tried to deny what she had said about motherhood and Theresa May. Instead, she blamed the journalist.

Good call. The public loves someone who blames the press. We’re all liars and celebrity-obsessed hacks who will do anything for a nice, juicy, exclusive quote, aren’t we? Well, no, not actually. At least not this particular Times journalist, who was smart enough to have recorded the interview. Listening to the recording on the Today programme, and then repeatedly over the next several hours of the news cycle, it seemed pretty obvious that Mrs Leadsom was saying that having children gave her an advantage, a bigger stake in the future … an edge (in other words).

In the event, Mrs Leadsom not only eventually apologised but also resigned from the leadership campaign leaving Theresa May to be the uncontested leader of the Conservative Party. So it is arguable that the regrettable incident cost Mrs Leadsom considerably more than the irritation and embarrassment it presumably caused Mrs May.

The really sad thing  – irrespective of the outcome in terms of the Tory leadership contest – is that a woman could have used her children to try to assert superiority over another woman, who doesn’t have children. This (like every aspect of a woman’s appearance, which is always considered fair game for her opponents and the media) simply doesn’t happen to men.

We had a personal example last week of unwillingness – or, to be fair, downright refusal – to say sorry last week. We were at a play in a historic building near Tisbury, with parking in a large field. I got Pippin out of the car, on his lead, for a quick walk. At the far end of the field (two or three hundred yards away) there were two people walking two dogs which started running towards Pippin and me. The people started shouting and running but the dogs (both boxers) were on top of Pippin before any of us knew what was happening.

It was only thanks to the quick reactions of a friend who had just got out of his car, and who walks with sticks, that the dogs were driven off. Fortunately Pippin was not hurt but he was terrified and very shaken. The two people called off their dogs and walked away, without a single word of apology or inquiry about our little terrier.

A friend who also has a wire haired fox terrier had two similar confrontations with dog owners in her village – in both cases her dog was on a lead and the other dogs weren’t. And in both cases the owners blamed her because her dog was on a lead.

This seems like a classic case of attack being the best form of defence – a phrase, incidentally, whose origins are variously attributed to George Washington in the American War of Independence and Mao Zedong.