In the immediate aftermath of the Chris Huhne affair, I wrote a column that expressed some sympathy for the disgraced and defenestrated MP. It was the heart-breaking texts between him and his son that did it for me. I have since, however, hardened my view on Mr Huhne. And the reason is that I'd missed a vital piece of evidence when working out exactly what I thought of him. It was the picture of his car taken by the speed camera on that fateful journey back from Stansted Airport almost a decade ago.
It wasn't that he was doing 69mph in a 50mph zone - I think we can all plead guilty to similar offences, and he'd had a hard day in Strasbourg and was keen to get home, or at least to somebody's home. No, what turned my head was the number plate on his BMW. H11HNE, it read. A personalised number plate? What was he thinking when he parted with good money for such a symbol of self-love? Why would someone choose a personalised number plate in the first place? To be flash? Self-important? To attract attention? Or maybe it's a sign of someone who's not sure of his place in the world. Or all of the above, perhaps.
In any case, my judgement, rather simplistic though it may be, is that it doesn't say anything good about a person. I never find myself saying: "Oh look, a big black car with a personalised number plate. I bet someone really kind and thoughtful owns that car". It may be fitting for Jimmy Tarbuck - his car is COM1C - and for Paul Daniels - MAG1C - and even Alan Sugar - his Roller bears the moniker AMS 1 - can get away with it. But for an MP whose raison d'être was to serve the people, and, what's more, whose brief was environmental issues? Not a good look, whichever way you cut it.
A friend of mine who owns a company told me the other day that if he visited a client and saw that he had a Porsche or some such with a personalised number plate, he'd know he'd be meeting someone who would have that catastrophic cocktail of insecurity and braggadocio.
This may be a generalisation too far, but, aside from cod psychology, there is a practical issue about having a customised plate. Why on earth would you want people to know where you are at any given time? My father once told me that he would never have a personalised number plate because he wouldn't want anyone to know when he was at the casino. As a young boy, I found this instructive, and also rather shocking because I never knew he frequented the casino.
But back to the wretched Mr Huhne. Or should I say Mr H11HNE? I admit that it doesn't exactly say much about me that I would take against someone just because they indulged themselves in a perfectly harmless manner. But sometimes it's the little things that matter. And in any case, given the way in which events have unfolded, surely a better plate for him would have been H11BRIS.Reuse content