By making a decision for her son that’s very different from that she recommends to others, Ruth Kelly is clearly indulging hypocrisy and the Mirror does us all a great service by exposing her. It’s right that those on the frontline are given an opportunity to call her to account. And it’s not the first time she’s found herself in this position. Ruth Kelly’s Opus Dei membership exposed the same character flaw, an apparent tendency to follow different moral codes in private and public; on Opus Dei she argued that her religious beliefs did not affect her work.
It should be no surprise that parents like Maria Hutchings become adversarial and attracted to extreme politics. Neither is it surprising that David Cameron, the Tory leader who takes advantage of them, thinks hypocrisy is fine: ‘politicians like everyone else are parents first and will act in the best interests of their children.’
But if state education really can’t cope with Ruth Kelly’s son, we shouldn’t expect her to make a martyr of him. We should instead expect her to come clean. Placed in a similar position Diane Abbott pled guilty to hypocrisy: ‘It is indefensible. I have campaigned for nearly ten years on what happens to black children in British schools.’
Yet that doesn’t work either; Diane Abbott wasn’t responsible for the failures of her local school. Failing schools don’t turn around overnight. What would work – and what might offer some succour to parents who can’t afford school fees of £15,000 a year – would be an admission that the system is failing (at least in part) rather than an insistence that all is rosy. Honesty and openness are essential to building trust and would provide a strong platform on which to build a programme of reform everyone could support and believe in.