On the evening of 19th September the chief whip Andrew Mitchell toddled out of No. 10, and trundled with his bike up to the security gates at the end of Downing Street. It is common ground that he asked to be let through. It is common ground that the policeman refused and asked him to use the side gate.
There the common ground ends. According a leaked police log which appeared in the papers a few days later, Mitchell lost it, big time. He, being a member of the uncaring cabal of semi aristocratic millionaires that runs the country, railed against the humble police men, who were merely doing their duty.
According to a police log leaked to the Telegraph five days later, he told the police to “learn your f****** place”; that they didn’t “run this f****** government”, and perhaps most damaging, that they were “f****** plebs”.
This account matched an email which had been sent to Mitchell’s Deputy from a “member of the public” who claimed to have witnessed the incident, recognised Mitchell (as you do) and reported the shocked faces of the gathered crowds.
Mitchell’s version is rather different. After muttering an exasperated expletive along the lines of “Oh f******g hell, I thought you guys were there to help us!”, Mitchell did what was asked, and meekly cycled off into the night, doubtless back to his enormous house in Versailles and/or Gstaad.
Mitchell, then, has been pilloried in the Press and by the Police Federation as the epitome of the Feudal Class which, to be fair, does have a strong grip of the Cabinet and High Office, swigging champers and chomping on foie gras as the poor starve, à la Les Miserables.
The Sun had a field day. The Police Federation launched its “Pleb” T-shirts and sweat shirts. They attended mob handed at his constituency to demand an explanation. And afterwards a bolshie cop railed at the intransigence of Mitchell, who had refused to give one at the meeting! Really?
Which is a bit unfortunate, really, as Mitchell’s party rep who attended the meeting recorded it. And he gave a very full and clear explanation of what his version of events was. Hmmmm…oh dear.
Last night’s excellent Channel 4 “Dispatches” investigation was fascinating and possibly revealing watching. It looks to me like Mitchell, possibly with the help of someone at the heart of government has decided to hit back with something that the lads and lasses in blue sometimes overlook. Namely, evidence.
Of course Downing Street and beyond are heavily covered by CCTV. Someone in the Cabinet Office has made this available to Channel 4 and their able and thorough reporters. Although it is not completely 100%, it rather appears that it supports Mitchell’s version of events. And there does not seem to be anyone outside Downing Street at the material time, let alone the shocked and appalled crowds. And that mystery member of the public who recognised Mitchell (although I am bound to say I could not have named him or picked him out of a line up of the other chinless wonders who have a vice like grip on power). Well, it seems he was not an ordinary member of the public at all. He is, in fact, a serving policeman. Oh dear…
And as we speak, a different member of the “No Longer Flying Squad” is already languishing in the cells, accused of not being particularly truthful. Something to do with untrue things….
I find it a bit odd that the Cabinet Office has made rather sensitive CCTV pictures and a possibly confidential email available to Channel 4. What is going on there? Has someone in the heart of government actually “pinged” that Mitchell has, in the time honoured, phrase, been “fitted up”? And found a really good strategy for getting that message out? Has “The Empire” struck back? It is very “The Thick of It”.
Now, nothing has been proved about anyone, one way or the other yet. It is a very interesting conundrum, however. If Mitchell’s version of events is true, he certainly mishandled the “spin” in a spectacular way, appearing evasive and unwilling to answer a straight question. Perhaps this is the problem with modern politicians, they feel they cannot admit a minor mistake, and thus come across as phoney and sneaky, playing with words.
But if it transpires that Mitchell’s version of events is essentially true, it means that members of the serving police force have conspired together to malign and effect the political assassination of a member of the government which they serve. That is not astonishing but it is deeply disturbing, and constitutionally deeply scary.
Since I have no idea of where the truth lies, I can only hope that it is untrue. I support the police and the job they do. It is not too long ago that I lined joined thousands of other along the route of the funeral of one of the fine, good, female Police Officers gunned down by a piece of filth in a Manchester suburb.
But for far too long now the Police Federation and the particularly sinister “ACPO2 have been acting as powerful lobbying groups, going beyond what I am comfortable with. And portraying the government’s ministers as arrogant toffs willing to denigrate ordinary police officers would be a useful political stick with which to beat the government when cuts are on the table.
As I say, I don’t know the truth of any of it. But according to “sources” the Prime Minister – “Flashman” to many of his own Backbenchers – is reported to be “furious”. The “toxic” allegations about high handed and rude toffs are extremely dangerous for the party.
I can’t say that the sight of the somewhat petulant Flashman would fill me with dread. He has the tendency to lose his temper, as he does in the Commons, but that is not strength, but a weakness.
I shall enjoy watching how this plays out. As I say, I have in no way pre-judged the issue. How can I?
But, of course, if I was Cameron, I would probably act with undue, unseemly and probable unwise haste. I believe the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police answers to the Home Secretary. Were I the PM, I would be asking the Home Secretary to invite the Commissioner to an interview with me at No. 10, at 8.30am. Whereupon what I believe is called in military circles “the interview without the coffee” would take place. No coffee, no biscuits, no chair indeed, no temper. I think certain things would be made…very clear.
Edited by Anna: I too had started writing on this story yesterday, but then held it in abeyance, waiting for the Despatches programme to air. I fell asleep before Despatches aired! For what it is worth, I shall throw my tuppence worth in here too.
The battle of #Plebgate continues, murkier than ever. Tom Newton-Dunn, the original recipient of the ‘Police Report’ that purported to show the words ‘Pleb’ and ‘Moron’ to have been used by Andrew Mitchell, has called the arrest of a Diplomatic Squad Officer ’chilling’ this morning. I am not so sure it is chilling. Elsewhere it is wailed that the arrest of ‘whistleblowers’ is disgraceful and a sign that we live in a police state – you are only a whistleblower when you are telling the truth, not when you are deliberately trying to manipulate public opinion! The Officer is accused of having given a ‘first hand’ account of the affair to an MP, validating the claims. It is now disputed that he was on duty at the time.Would we describe the act of a senior policeman giving a false account of an event to an MP harmless? Would we describe as ‘chilling’ the arrest of a senior policeman who gave a false account of say, the Hillsborough tragedy, to an MP? I suspect not.
However, #Plebgate is not Hillsborough, nobody died, but it is every bit as emotive to those involved. Partly because it has been skillfully handled by a surprising PR team. Jon Gaunt of ‘shock jock’ fame, and his journalist brother Jason, who has long connections with Fleet Street and The Sun. All credit to them, they have made a mark with their new business. It seems that large numbers of Police Federation divisions had signed up with this new enterprise, ‘The Gaunt Brothers’, for lessons in ‘how to handle the media’. As a consequence, there are now high volumes of #Plebgate mugs and t-shirts circulating. They may well become collectors items, reminders of how #Fedgate first started. The Gaunt Brothers ‘megaphone’ Twitter account has been uncharacteristically quiet for the past three days, no longer bragging of their role in #Plebgate.
Up and down the country, junior barristers will be practising their closing speech.
“Members of the jury, you will be aware that police officers are known to have lied to members of parliament; how likely do you think it is that they will have told you, ordinary members of the public, mere plebs if you like, the truth”?
That this PR battle for the hearts and minds of the taxpaying public over the issue of police salary and pensions, something I wholeheartedly supported, may end not just the credibility of police officers trusted ability to tell the truth, but surely the end of a career as a diplomatic protection squad officer, must rank as one of the worst PR exercises in living memory.
My sympathies lie with the rank and file police officers, who have not been well served in this matter.
I am indebted to ‘The Fat Councillor’ for the final word on the matter – couldn’t have summed it up better myself.