I’ve missed the boat for saying anything useful about the Labour leadership election. That’s all done and dusted. No point in mentioning the whole, “he stabbed him in the back” nonsense or the quickening in the hearts in the Murdoch press at the possibility of a Labour leader who might, from time to time, in a moment of crazy clarity, support the odd union fighting for the basic pension rights of its members.
So yes, nothing left to say. OK, well, one thing. As we all know, Harriet Harman clapped Ed when he said the invasion of Iraq was wrong. David turned and made some kind of snippy, “Well, you voted for it,” comment. Now this makes me cross. Politicians have to be allowed to be wrong. It’s perfectly possible – even reasonable – that a decision made in 2003 in the light of one set of facts, seven years later, with a whole different load of information, may prove to have been a mistake.
Kathryn Schulz, in her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, makes a claim for the value of human error, and I think she is right. Our culture encourages us to deride wrongness. There is no space in which error, and particularly political error, can be usefully discussed. There is only finger pointing. But this makes no sense. As one reviewer of Schulz’s book commented, knowledge tends to be superseded by better knowledge*. In Schulz’s own view: "We get things wrong because we have an enduring confidence in our own minds; and we face up to that wrongness in the faith that, having learned something, we will get it right next time." In other words, admitting you were part of a decision that later proves to have been wrong, is a good thing. It’s the way of the optimist. It doesn’t mean we all have to forgive Harriet or anyone else who agreed to the war, but it should allow for the rightness of being wrong.
Which I think was what Ed was saying all along.
- Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz.
- Review: by Rafael Behr, The Observer, Sunday 19 September