YOU’RE not supposed to show scenes of torment on primetime TV, but Ofcom makes an exception for Andrew Neil.

Wednesday night’s interview with Jo Swinson had its share of moments that some viewers found distressing.

There was her reckless plan to revoke Article 50, for a start, a policy that would apply in the unlikely event of the LibDems winning a majority. Mr Neil pointed out how it had upset a lot of Remain voters, by implying it was OK for a government elected on “a lot less than half of the vote” to reverse the Leave result of 2016. What did she say to that?

She couldn’t say much at all, because he was right. “We work within the system that we have,” she insisted, but had nowhere to go from there. After all, the LibDems have been decrying the voting system since forever.

If anyone was keeping score (and everyone was), that made it one-nil to Andrew Neil.

Then there were other uncomfortable questions, about her low approval ratings and her voting record in the coalition government. It won’t have convinced her confirmed detractors.

But was it the car crash interview some anticipated? Was it another of the squirming encounters we have come to expect from Mr Corbyn?

It was not. At the end of the half-hour dissection, she didn’t limp off set like the wounded Labour leader. She didn’t seem as complacent as Nicola Sturgeon, whose default is to blame Westminster for everything. Above all, she didn’t cower in a corner and refuse to come on, like Boris Johnson. Jo Swinson actually did surprisingly all right – which is to say, the combative, demanding format showed this famously Marmite personality at her confident best and demonstrated that she was better at handling tough questions than her rivals for prime ministerial office.

This isn’t because the LibDem leader has it easier than them: those days are long gone. Time was when the LibDems didn’t so much stake out the moral high ground as put down concrete foundations and a sewerage connection. They had never been in power and seemingly never would be. They could say what they liked and be seen as the conscience of parliament.

But that changed in 2010. The five-year Tory-LibDem coalition has left the party with a legacy of voter mistrust. As a minister in that government, Ms Swinson has a personal charge sheet to answer for and Mr Neil made her enter a plea for every one of them. Who voted repeatedly for the bedroom tax? The benefits cap? For letting NHS contracts be put out to private tender?

As part of a LibDem team in government, I did, she answered, repeatedly.

And then she apologised. “I am sorry that I did that, it was not the right policy,” she declared. She pointed out that the LibDems won some battles in the coalition – stopping the two-child limit, for instance, which was subsequently introduced by the Tories anyway – but she didn’t get bogged down in self-justification. She was sorry. End of.

It’s interesting, the power of an unreserved apology. It doesn’t eradicate the stain of the sin, but it’s a reminder that failure is a human weakness. We want our politicians to be perfect. We howl at them for falling short. But secretly we know that in their shoes, we wouldn’t be perfect either; that like them, we would be forced to make unpalatable decisions. Most of us have more respect for politicians who own their past decisions and apologise for them than those who duck responsibility, or evade scrutiny altogether.

Jo Swinson understands this. It’s four years since the LibDems lost a chunk of seats in the 2015 election and the party realised early on that nothing but a period in the village stocks would allow them to live it down. They’re still getting pelters and she is still apologising.

Social media is no more scientific as a gauge of public opinion than a straw poll in a pub, but it was striking that after Ms Swinson’s interview, once the LibDems’ Twitter cheerleaders had been eliminated, a surprising number of posts, some grudgingly, gave her credit for courage and a willingness to say sorry.

Will it make a significant difference to her party’s fortunes? Unlikely, but now that three leaders have submitted to the Neil ordeal, it does confirm that the LibDem chief has strengths, strengths that have tended to be lost under a torrent of critical comment, not just about her questionable judgment over revoke or past backing for the bedroom tax – reasonable charges – but also, more harshly, about her accent, clothing and manner. It is still unusual in public life to encounter a young female who is as unwaveringly self-confident as Jo Swinson, and not everyone likes it. “Could you be a little less?” sings Madonna in the song What It Feels Like for a Girl, and I’m often reminded of that line when I read criticism of Jo Swinson. Speaking to Andrew Neil, she acknowledged that people have suggested she change what she says or does. Perhaps she just meant her policies. Either way, she insists she’ll continue to stand up for what she believes in and it’s hard to fault her for that.

In fact, it’s hard to fault any of the leaders who did this interview.

Jeremy Corbyn’s four-time refusal to apologise for anti-Semitism during his Neil interview damaged him but neither that, nor Nicola Sturgeon’s troubles over health and education, nor Jo Swinson’s revoke policy, are the big story to emerge from these encounters. The real story is that three party leaders have been accountable and one has not. Boris Johnson should have been made to answer for the prejudiced views he’s repeatedly expressed. He should have been made to answer for his serial dishonesty. He should have been forced to utter the truth about the risk with the Tories of a no-deal Brexit.

But like the Bullingdon Club old boy he is, he believes that the rules don’t apply to him.

Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon have come out relatively well from this ordeal; Jeremy Corbyn survived it, but Boris Johnson has disgraced himself, yet again.