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Opinion

Paul McNamee: In politics, tricky seems to be the hardest word

If Karen Bradley and co admitted these issues were complicated we’d be more forgiving of their gaffes. But it just looks like they don’t care

It is not a question of mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes. I once bought a pair of cowboy boots.

It’s not even about admitting mistakes.

Anybody can do that. See above about the cowboy boots.

The great swirling mystery at the heart of how we live now is why those governing us can’t admit that things are tough but they’re going to try to understand and deal with those challenges, for everybody’s benefit. It would make things immeasurably better.

Karen Bradley is just the latest of a dispiriting, head-scratching bunch. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Bradley stood up last week in the House of Commons and said that no killings by security forces during The Troubles were crimes.

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It was the worst sort of sweeping, and incorrect, generalisation. When PM, David Cameron twice apologised in the Commons for wrongs conducted by the State – once after the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday and once after the Stevens Inquiry into collusion between the security forces and loyalist killers of lawyer Pat Finucane.

Bradley, doing a Grayling, apologised for all sorts of things that she was clearly still unclear about. “I want to be very clear,” she said, before becoming very unclear, “I do not believe what I said, that is not my view.” Are we clear?

Northern Ireland is a messy place, damaged and darkly twisted by a dirty war. At present it sits at the core of the Brexit conundrum. Solve the border, push ahead. And people there remember EVERYTHING. And everything is nuanced.

She looks like part of a bigger circle of people who not only don’t know what they’re doing, but don’t really care.

When Bradley took the Northern Ireland job there was probably not a big queue in front of her grappling for it. She said then she didn’t fully understand the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues in the place. Given the thin bench she was drawn from, that was understandable and showed an admirable openness.

However, surely in the intervening year she’s had the chance to read a bit about it, or get somebody in to brief her, or at least google it!

And even if she still isn’t totally across the situation, admitting that she is still learning would not be a major problem, if an intention to learn exists.

Had Bradley done this, there would have been more acceptance and less judgement of her gaffes.

As it stands, she looks like part of a bigger circle of people who not only don’t know what they’re doing, but don’t really care.

Grayling, clearly, is a key player in this. But it goes beyond. Why doesn’t Liam Fox cut the ‘this is easy’ rhetoric and say, this is hard. It’s harder than we thought to sort out trade deals, but we’re still pushing and doing it for the best.

It goes right to the top. Had Theresa May stopped once and cut the platitudes to say we are in uncharted waters, it’s some of the most complex set of negotiations this nation has entered, we are deep in them and looking to serve everybody, she’d carry more trust and be given more latitude. Instead, she has set up everything as a battleground, a state of mind that has filtered down to all elements of how we live now.

That old Thatcherite idea of being with us or against us is divisive baloney. And it means that those who are with her in cabinet get away with incompetence in their role, so long as the altar of Brexit is served.

Admittance of difficulty is not an admittance of weakness. It won’t cause collapse. And it’s not too late. If it came, it’d change the tone in the country and move to something approaching reality. Surely that’s clear.

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