Nile Gardiner, foreign policy analyst, former aide to Margaret Thatcher and contributor to the Telegraph expressed his own view very succinctly on January 19th. He wrote on Twitter that the incident with Rishi Sunak travelling in a car without a seatbelt was ‘a complete waste of police time’. He was right, it was a complete waste of time but I suspect not for the reasons he meant.
Hats off (rather than seatbelts) this time to Rishi Sunak who on being investigated by police fessed up and duly paid his fixed penalty notice. He now has the unenviable title of the first person to ever receive a FPN in both numbers 11 and 10 Downing Street. His actions minimised the waste of police time and avoided the usual circus of denial, followed by an investigation and an inevitable conviction. At least he has broken away from the Johnson mould in that respect.
At times like these Twitter can be a cess pit. Photo after photo appeared of other politicians not wearing a seatbelt in a car as if somehow two wrongs make a right. I know that MPs enter into pairing arrangements with opposing party members to not vote in a particular division but this doesn’t work with the law. Finding a picture of Starmer without a seatbelt doesn’t make Sunak’s actions irrelevant. Oddly, in many of the pictures of Starner he is clearly wearing one.
Anyway, that’s not the point. I opened with the statement that it was a waste of police time because those in authority should know better and abide by the law. The more you are in the public eye then the greater the responsibility you have to act accordingly. There are very few people in the UK, if any, who are more in the public eye than the Prime Minister.
What people pretend to forget is that actions matter, especially when it comes to leadership. Sunak not wearing a seatbelt says to many that it’s fine not to bother. It was the same with wearing a mask in public during the pandemic, or holding parties when you’d gone on the TV to tell the rest of us that we couldn’t. It was the same when using incendiary and dehumanising language to describe migrants as an invasion. It was the same with the bullying and threatening behaviour that has gone on between ministers and civil servants. Such actions are not without consequences. They give those who are looking for it permission to do the same.
Standards of behaviour in public service are important which is why the Nolan principles were introduced. Adherence or even acknowledgement of them has been in short supply of late.
Gardiner is right, it was a complete waste of police time. There is a simple principle in play. Those who make the law should abide by the law.