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Society, Politics & Law

The 12 ways of cluelessness

Updated Monday, 23rd December 2013

Alan Shipman invites you to pick your best from his seasonal celebration of the best responsibility-dodging excuses in 2013.

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A parody of the Twelve Days Of Christmas Creative commons image Icon Catherine Pain under Creative-Commons license Long ago, before King Wenceslas went on the St Stephen’s Diet and yule logs were sustainably sourced, leaders took the blame and quit when things went badly wrong. Since then, amazing new techniques have been discovered for claiming it was unavoidable, not a mistake and/or someone else’s fault. Here’s a seasonal celebration of the best responsibility-dodging reasons of 2013.

'I should have been given more Continuing Professional Development. So if I lacked competence, my bosses were at fault for not providing me with it'. Star practitioner: Paul Flowers, who chaired the Co-Op bank after an uncompleted 4-year traineeship. 

'I am a master of decentralisation and delegation. So my underlings blundered, and I knew nothing about it.' Star practitioner: Captain Francesco Schettino, who blamed his Greek deputy for steering the Costa Concordia onto Italian rocks. Right-Honourable mention: David Cameron, whose Breadmaker is responsible for his not knowing the price of a loaf.

'We have to make deliberate mistakes sometimes, to show we’re on a level with ordinary people. So getting stuck on zipwires, or confused about where to out cycle lanes, is my way of making the less-clever feel better'. Star practitioner: Boris Johnson, whose day-job as a newspaper columnist can sometimes make him a night-mayor. Right-Honourable mention: Ed Miliband, for being so immune to gender bias, he just can’t distinguish men from women.

'A "Black Swan" blocked the flight path: so my masterful plan was derailed by extremely improbable events that no-one could have foreseen'. Star practitioners: Everyone running a bank, or a financial regulation agency, in 2008. Right-Honourable mention: Nick Clegg, for suggesting that Nigella divorcing Charles Saatchi was as unlikely as Edwina romancing John Major.


'We all made the same mistake. And the Regulator didn’t stop us, so it must have been okay. After all, we were given whopping bonuses for it'. Star practitioner: Bob Diamond, now bringing his investment-banking skills to Africa, after his (personally) very profitable time in the UK. Honourable mention: Nigel Farage, who tried to help out the evasive bankers with his own money, concealed in a family educational trust on the Isle of Man.

'I did an honourable thing which my critics have wilfully misinterpreted. And a scheme that tackles poverty brings you influence and power, enemies will always attack its less attractive features – like the sky-high interest rates'. Star practitioner: Prof Muhammad Yunus, whose pioneering of micro-credit won him millions of satisfied customers and a Nobel Peace Prize, but made him as popular as a pay-day lender in his home country. 

'Someone sabotaged the results. So I was doing the right thing, and you should have gone after the real felon'. Star practitioner: Brian Clough, whose Nottingham Forest team really did lose their 1984 Euro semi-final because the other side had bribed the referee.

'It depends what you mean by "miscalculate". By my reckoning, it’s an extraordinary success'. Star practitioner:  George W Bush, who declared that peace and freedom had returned to Iraq in 2003. 

'No-one could see what was happening, it was ‘the fog of war’. So if anyone’s to blame, it’s those BBC Weather people for not warning us about the fog'.  Star Practitioner: Since the Chilcot Enquiry has yet to give its verdict on the Iraq campaign, we posthumously salute Lady Thatcher, who pointed out to the Franks Enquiry that the fog around the Falklands was also 6,000 miles away.

'I was exceedingly drunk at the time. So drunk, it’s surprising I didn’t do worse, so you ought to praise my good judgement'. Star practitioner: Rob Ford, the irremovable/incorrigible/irreplaceable Mayor of Toronto.

'It’s terrible – but people voted for it. And democracy must prevail, even if half the voters complain they couldn’t get through'. Star practitioner: Simon Cowell, whose year-ending, ear-rending talent shows evoke ever-fonder memories of when Morecambe and Wise were the Christmas Show of choice.

All should be forgiven – it’s the Season of Goodwill. And mistakes are not the end of the world. In fact, buried in the maths behind the Higgs Boson – whose prizewinning discoverer admits he’d never get an academic job these days – there’s probably a sub-atomic twist that says mistakes were the beginning of the world. 

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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