“It’s not fair” is something I hear a lot in my household with two young children. Our obsession with being treated equally appears to start pretty early on, writes Kirsty Green.
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP, a mum to two young children herself, that the British public would not want her to get ‘special treatment’ when it came to doing a speed awareness course.
In fact, it was an opportunity, if anything, for the Tory MP to show how like us she is. She got caught speeding – it’s happened to many of us. She got offered a speed awareness course or points and a fine – the same as we’d all be offered.
It was at this point, I think, she could have done with some advice which didn’t come from a civil servant, but perhaps just a friend with some media or even common sense.
As an MP who is, rightly or wrongly, tarred with the Tory privilege brush, Suella needed to make herself a little more human and a little less ‘above the rest’ by showing she wanted to go on the speed awareness course.
Instead of planning to attend the course like the rest of us, she sought advice as to whether there could be a session just for her. To be fair, during Covid, these courses were run online, so it would not have been beyond the realms of possibility for this. But what matters is that she was trying to get treatment different to other people.
The ideal situation in public relations terms would have been for her to attend the course and be seen to be taking her punishment just like everyone else, with everyone else.
However, her concerns around security for her and others on the course, as she transitioned to her role as Home Secretary, were probably genuine and well-founded.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson recalled during a TV interview that he got the phone call to say he was promoted to the position while on the train. He said: “When I pulled into Kings Cross, there were about five police officers with dogs.”
It was this overbearing security which was depicted in the BBC drama Bodyguard and which Alan Johnson thought was pretty on the mark.
The cost of adapting an in-person course to make it safe for all may have meant it was better for Suella to take the fine instead – which is what she ultimately did.
Not going on the course was not the real issue for the public. It was the perception she attempted to avoid going on it – that she didn’t want to do it with other people, speeders, just like her. That seemed unfair.
It is a PR lesson for all those in positions of power. Perhaps there are aspects of your job which mean you have to be treated differently to others. But what matters is that you strive for equity.
Had I been giving Suella Braverman a bit of advice, I would have told her to proceed to make plans to attend the course and find out what, if any, security would be needed for this.
If she was told costly security would be required, I would have told her to publicly say her mistake shouldn’t cost the public and should only hit her in the pocket, which was why she was going to take the fine and the points.
It’s the same outcome as now, but the public’s thirst for fairness would have been quenched and the elitist badge perhaps not further polished.