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By Peter Hoskin
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Boris
isn’t shy about lobbing grenades across the political landscape, is he?
Yesterday there was his column for the Telegraph, which urged Conservatives to
get behind Nick Clegg — “if you leave out Europe, he is probably a natural Tory”
— but which was probably as welcome as a face-full of shrapnel for the Lib Dem
leader. And now, today, there are his comments about the Mitchell affair, which
are similarly combustive. According to a photographer on the scene, Boris said
that he is “very glad to see the police proposed to arrest Andrew Mitchell”.

The
Mayor of London has since diluted his remarks, but only slightly. In an
exchange with ITV’s London Tonight programme, he has said the following:

Interviewer:
When is it acceptable to verbally abuse a police officer?

Boris
Johnson:
In my book you shouldn’t abuse police officers and I’ve made that
clear loads of times. The crucial thing for me is that Andrew Mitchell has now
apologised not just once but twice publicly. I believe he has apologised also
to the police officer concerned and that underscores how wrong it is for any of
us to abuse police officers when they are trying to get on with their job.

I: If people
swear at police they should expect to be arrested. Your words…

BJ:
Absolutely and I’m very interested to see from the paper this morning that
actually there was an offer to arrest Andrew Mitchell.

I: Do you
think he should have been arrested?

BJ: That’s
obviously an operational matter. They have to judge how things are at the time.
What it underscores is, it’s not acceptable to abuse police officers. This has
been rattling on for quite a few days now. I hope the message that people take
from it is it’s a serious thing to get wrong.

As
the Mayor of London says, this story has rattled on for a few days now, and he’s
probably just given it another squirt of momentum. So when is it going to stop?
Could it even overlap with the Birmingham get-together in twelve days’ time? That
will surely be the concern hovering over the Tory leadership at the moment.
After all, today’s polls are bad enough* — but a party conference spent
fielding questions about the p-word, and avoiding concurrent proximity to
police officers and press photographers, would be a different sort of agony.

*
According to a YouGov poll, 69 per cent think that Mr Mitchell did call the
police officer a “pleb”; 52 per cent think he should resign.

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