On the afternoon of 7th September 2005 – 7/7 – the day of the worst terrorist outrage in London's history, I was walking along an almost-deserted Strand. The atmosphere was solemn, funereal. It was also grimly defiant; what sort of people do they think we are? There was a policeman almost every fifty yards, and a chap in front of me had a brief word with all of them. So I asked the next copper what he had said. "Just 'thank you, officer'".
That had my eyes moistening. My voice was almost cracking as I said: "He was speaking for every decent person in this city and this country". That is how we want to be able to think about our policemen, and the great majority of them deserve it. The other year, I spoke at the Police Federation conference. All the bobbies I met there inspired confidence. I am sure that they were better thief-takers than some of their superiors, who spend far too much time at seminars on race and gender. But there are problems.
The police may have fixed Andrew Mitchell, but I do not believe that he used those words. There must have been an error in transcription. Interestingly, my view is shared by a number of lawyers and judges whom I have spoken to, and who all went on to make the same point – no reference, of course, to the events in Downing Street – "the police often lie". A generation ago, they and their predecessors would have automatically accepted a policeman's word: no longer.
I remember being shocked at a dinner party about ten years ago when a friend of mine declared that he would not dream of letting the local police station know when he was off on holiday; he wanted to hang on to his silver. Now, I would not be so shocked. Nor, I suspect, would many others.
The police service is no longer as respected as it should be by the respectable classes, which ought to worry thoughtful policemen. They should also be alarmed at the reaction to last week's brutal assault on a blind man, which blended outrage and shoulder-shrugging: "what do you expect?" No, that is not what we should expect; nor is it what the police should want us to expect. There is Hillsborough to come, plus the criminal enquiries into telephone hacking and police corruption. The police will need character references. Years ago, a left-wing civil servant friend of mine who did a tour of duty in a policing department at the Home Office reassured us all. She had started as a sceptic about the police; she ended up as a convert. "There is nothing a decent cop hates more than a bent cop", she would insist. I hope that she is still right.
On Mitchell-gate, the police should not have tried to insist on their own idle, jobsworth procedures. They should have done what the Chief Whip asked, without his even needing to ask it.
Andrew Mitchell had to resign, because he had become the story and because his ability to do his job was impaired. But he – and the Prime Minister – were absolutely right to wait until Parliament returned before making a decision. If he had gone four weeks ago, the same people who are now blaming the PM for procrastination would have been accusing him of panic.
There is a bit of panic about, mainly coming from some of the more intellectually-challenged Tory backbenchers who believe in approaching every problem with an open mouth. The Sunday Times (£) had an absurdly over-hyped story, larded with anonymous quotes, claiming, inter alia, that No.10 was in a state of meltdown. In the words of the great Sir Bernard Ingham, that is "bunkum and balderdash".
No.10 is in a state of irritation. Two weeks ago, the PM made a widely-acclaimed speech in which he re-affirmed his strategy. Without underestimating the difficulties and dangers ahead, he insisted that Britain was well-placed to deal with them. Last week, there were good borrowing and employment figures; no-one would dare talk about green shoots, but everyone is hoping. Outside No.10, however, hardly anybody noticed. So the PM's team are vexed.
That team is coming under criticism. According to the Sunday Times, Eddie Llewellyn, the Chief of Staff, has been sidelined: see "bunkum and balderdash" above. Mr Llewellyn has and will always have the PM's full confidence, and so he should. Apropos of a Yorkshire bowler, Neville Cardus once wrote: "It is as if God had taken a piece of good Yorkshire clay and moulded it into human form and then breathed life into it, saying: 'Thy name is Emmot Robinson and tha shall open t'bowling from Pavilion End'". Albeit in a different accent, the Almighty may have done something similar to Ed Llewellyn, who is the Platonic idea of a chief of staff.
It would be boring to run through a list of names of people whom no-one has ever heard of – and who are keen to protect their anonymity – garlanding them all with superlatives. Suffice it so say that the current Downing St team -including No.11 – is vastly strong: much the best that I have ever observed. There is an obvious retort: "If they are so good, why is the country in such a mess ?" There is an equally obvious answer: because of the difficulties facing us, and much of the world. Anyone who thinks that there are obvious answers has not begun to understand the questions. As for Downing St needing to get a grip, there is plenty of grip, coming from a central source: David Cameron.
This week, the third quarter growth figures will be published. Everyone expects improvement in the 0.4/0.8 range; Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs thinks that it could be as high as 1%. More green shoots? It is certainly a more important indicator than the latest excitable nonsense.