I dare say they did the minute calculations. “If you don’t wear one, Minister, it will look as though police are being diverted from their duties to protect you on the streets of your own constituency. If you do wear one, it will look as though you are afraid to walk the streets of Peckham without protection.”
The arguments, I’m sure, were very finely balanced on each side. Advisors will no doubt have concluded that neither felt like the absolutely right decision.
In cases like this, it is seductive to assume that fine balance in the arguments will equate to a similarly finely balanced reaction, with no scope for hyperbole, extremes of view, etc, leading in turn to a negligible, neutral reaction. At times like this, it is worth returning to the original “what if” statements and thinking again.
This story is an object lesson in the need to be even more cautious when the “right thing” is difficult to define.
Once the story had broken, Harriet Harman was right to put her flak jacket back on and enter the Today programme to defend her decision. It was an opportunity to make the simple case for doing so, and in my view she used analogies to good effect to dismantle the story – though by this stage, of course, it was damage limitation more than anything else.
Quite what will happen when she stands in today at PMQs is anyone’s guess, though she should be prepared for predictable double-edged remarks about the cut of her jacket from the benches opposite.