Luciana Berger, Labour MP, for Liverpool Wavertree has crossed my radar before – and not in a good way.
So, my ears pricked up when I heard her dulcet tones ask the first question at today’s PMQs. She demanded an apology from David Cameron for remarks he was supposed to have made about the Hillsborough disaster. According to Hansard, Berger asked:
Yesterday it was reported that the Prime Minister had compared the families of those who had died at Hillsborough to
“a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there”,
and had complained that he was not being given enough credit for the release of all the Government documents relating to the tragedy. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the relatives and friends of the 96 Hillsborough victims for those grossly offensive comments?
Cameron ignored the main part of the question and said:
What I would say to all the victims and their families is that it is this Government who have done the right thing by opening up the Cabinet papers and trying to help those people to find the closure that they seek.
Obviously I wondered what it was all about. A bit of Googling led me to Monday’s Liverpool Daily Post in which Cameron is directly quoted as making that exact remark.
“I don’t think we will ever achieve closure on Hillsborough. I don’t think there will ever be one moment when you can say ‘that’s it’, as there was with the Saville Inquiry.“It’s like, what’s the saying, it’s like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there.”
I can actually see that he may have meant this in a reasonable way. Cameron can be crass, for sure. Anything he’s ever said on the Human Rights Act, the riots, Europe and immigration refers. In this case, I’m not sure he was going out of his way to offend. I don’t know what goes on in his head, which is probably a good thing, but it may be that he thought that he was saying something sympathetic when he made that remark. The words may well have made his way from his brain to his lips without engaging the “what will this look like out of context in print” filter. That’s not always a bad thing, either. I’d rather genuine attempts at communication which were occasionally cocked up than someone who only ever talked in scripted banalities. The statement from Downing Street reported by the BBC certainly states that he didn’t mean to offend anyone and was talking about how difficult it can be for someone who’s lost a relative in these circumstances to find closure.
I think, though, for the head of the government to say this, when these families were clearly failed by servants of the state, albeit not this particular administration, is at best ill advised. You have to be extra careful to be sensitive in these situations and his remarks could be interpreted as implying that the families should just give up their quest for truth cos they aren’t going to find anything.
This Government has certainly released the Hillsborough papers, which has to be a good thing and which Labour failed to do so its intent is clear. I suspect that Cameron did not set out to deliberately challenge what the families are doing. I wish I could be even half as sure that Luciana Berger’s sole motive was to stand up for those families and not make political hay out of a tragedy.