The twitter and media storm that erupted around Lily Allen and her visit to the jungle camp, and her apology to a teenage boy from Afghanistan is something that shows the best and worst of our nation. Clearly no one, not even a Prime Minister is really able to apologise on behalf of a whole nation as we saw from the reactions to apologies expressed by people such as Blair and Cameron. The idea of pop star being able to apologise on behalf of a nation is almost risible. Yet faced with people who have been hurt and are being disadvantaged by the efforts of ones home country, what can any of us do? I confess that without TV cameras and journalists around, that on occasions I too have apologised for the damage caused to individuals by the actions of the UK, a nation I am proud (most of the time) to belong to. My apologies, like that of Lily Allen have cost nothing, although Ms Allen may well have suffered from the abuse on twitter she received. Perhaps that is at the heart of why some people find the whole idea a bit hard to swallow. If I personally do something wrong, and then apologise, then my pride must take some pain as part of that process. However simply listening and not empathising with individuals would be inhuman, based on the values I have embedded somewhere inside of me. The problem might be when such an apology is publicised in such as way as to imply that anyone else is part of the mix or if they are aimed at a nebulous group or community. In some respects this is the problem for the likes of Tony Blair when he apologised for the Slave Trade or David Cameron apologising for Bloody Sunday. Unless these apologies were rooted in action and a widespread level of support, they are perhaps meaningless, particularly as mostly they are not aimed at anyone in particular.
I am grateful to Lily Allen for apologising to this young man, as it exposes our need to better understand how to respond to the thousands like him. The soldiers going off to Afghanistan knew what to do and when, they were trained to respond. The nation as a whole and individuals like me and Lily Allen are not well prepared for what to do. I am pleased that Lily appears to be in good spirits despite the criticism she has received and the impact of visiting the camp. She has given as good as she got from the inimitable Katie Hopkins who wrote on twitter “Do not apologise for this country Allen, you cretin. This great country prefers to look after its own. Get over it.” For my part getting over our failings in Afghanistan and the many other conflicts we have perpetrated on other nations, no matter how noble the cause may have been are not things we should ever try to get over. This nation is well able to look after others as well as its own (something Katie Hopkins does not always seem to support). As for Hopkins calling anyone else a cretin, that seems a bit rich to me. However Lily wrote in response “It’s a free country Katie, you use your platforms to incite hate, and I will use mine to do the opposite. #” I think that just about sums it up for me too. I would like a wider debate about how we can respond to appalling events such as Afghanistan in a way that retains the integrity of all those involved on the side of goodness. However if we are going to make mistakes I would prefer to apologise once too often, than once too few times.