My arrival in London last week was framed
by two unfolding stories: first the tragic brutal slaying of two unarmed police
officers in Manchester; the second about a Cabinet Minister who gave a police
officer a gob-full out the front of 10 Downing Street. Hardly comparable events,
yet a week on and one has overshadowed the other – that is a travesty.
As I leave to return home to Australia
the senseless deaths of those two police officers has been overtaken by a
running commentary on “did he or didn’t he call the copper a ‘pleb’”. What is
wrong with you people? Its seems that this terminology is “toxic” according to
some, and the BBC to make the point (as they predictably would) featured one
Classics Professor Edith Hall who gushingly and somewhat sneeringly assured
viewers that this was an insult of monumental proportion. Really?
The other dynamic at play has been the ferocity
with which the Metropolitan Police Federation has maintained the rage. The
chairman of that organisation, John Tully, seized on Andrew Mitchell’s outburst
so fast that I was left wondering whether he was hiding in nearby bushes. Like
Professor Hall, he asserts as fact things that he wasn’t privy to. Don’t let
the truth stand in the way of a good story, guys.
To compound matters the police unionist,
keen to keep the story going, rails against the temerity of Andrew Mitchell for
calling into question the “integrity” of the police officer’s account; notes and
all. Well blow me down — I thought the “integrity” of police officers’
recollections, and their contemporaneous police notes, was called into question
everyday in the criminal justice system. And whilst I don’t doubt that the
police officer concerned faithfully recorded his version of events and
conversation, it is exactly that – his version.
What I don’t understand is why, on this
occasion, police decided that Mitchell couldn’t ride his bicycle through the
main gate, assuming he has made a practice of this in the past. What had
changed? Second, if Mitchell had made such an offensive goose of himself and
swore at the officer, why wasn’t he arrested on the spot?
Mitchell has apologised to the officer
concerned and, on my understanding, the apology has been accepted. The evident
contrition and regret of Andrew Mitchell is on full public display – what more
do you want? Mitchell’s humiliation is complete.
Labour have not called for Mitchell’s
sacking, rather an inquiry
into the matter. And whilst the lunatic fringe of UK politics, the Lib Dems,
has enjoyed and revelled in his discomfort, they are not demanding his head on
Thankfully, newspaper editors armed
with superficial and predictable poll results don’t get to run the country and
decide who stays and who goes – that’s the prerogative of the PM. And, in my
view, he has called it right. In Australia we would say “fair go”. We would
also be focusing back on the story that really matters – the death of police
officers in the line of duty.