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Thursday, December 20, 2012 

The Tory who believes he was mugged by the police.

The old cliche goes that a conservative is just a mugged liberal.  Andrew Mitchell is that rare beast: a Conservative who believes he's been mugged by the police.  Amusing as it always is when those whose default position is to trust the police and the army while distrusting most other state employees discover to their horror that our brave boys in blue have the same flaws and potential prejudices as everyone else, Mitchell has clearly gone out of his to express how wronged he has been.  Not since David Blunkett have quite so many "friends of" a politician been briefing the newspapers.  As it turned out, the friends of Blunkett were, err, Blunkett.  Anyone willing to wager the same isn't the case this time round?

This isn't to say that there hasn't been an obvious element of foul play involved.  The member of the public who wasn't there but was a police officer does raise some uncomfortable questions both for the Met and the police federation.  It's understandable that Mitchell's outburst at the officers over their refusal to let him through the main Downing Street gates was soon more widely known, regardless of how it came about; what's more important is how it was leaked to the Sun, and how the letter from the officer came to be written.  If that can in any way be connected to the federation, and to the campaign that has been masterminded, if that's the right word, by Gaunt Brothers, then it becomes far more serious.

Let's not though fall into the trap of believing this is some grand conspiracy against Mitchell, the Conservatives and the government, at least until further evidence comes to light.  The CCTV footage from Downing Street proves precisely nothing either way: yes, it looks as though the officers exaggerated when they said in the log that there "were several members of the public present" and that "they look visibly shocked", as although there were people milling around, only one person seems to have taken much of an interest in what was going on.  This is hardly surprising, frankly, as anyone who's had almost any contact with the police will know.  What the CCTV doesn't contradict is the idea that's been established of Mitchell going on a tirade against the officers: in the log there is no mention of shouting, merely that there was a disagreement and Mitchell made his point extremely forcefully.  Moreover, Mitchell admits that some of the log is accurate: he did swear, saying something along the lines of "I thought you guys were meant to fucking help us," and he did say words to the effect of "you haven't heard the last of this" as he cycled off.  The only part he strenuously denies is calling them plebs.

As I wrote at the time, there was no real reason why this should have resulted in the end of Mitchell's career.  He apologised, the officers accepted his apology, and everyone ought to be allowed one such outburst or loss of temper, within reason at least.  It was the campaign orchestrated against Mitchell, not just by the federation but also a tabloid press not enamoured with Cameron's government that did for him.  Mitchell obviously believes that there is no way back into a ministerial position without proving his innocence, the obvious problem being that means either he or the police are lying.  Despite the exaggeration on the police's behalf about the witnesses, they had no reason to lie about Mitchell's use of words, unless we're meant to believe this was such a nefarious plot that the not letting him through the main gates was intended to precipitate just such a response from the chief whip, something that wasn't exactly guaranteed.  Pleb is also hardly a common insult these days; if you were making such a thing up, you'd probably go for "cunts" rather than "plebs", as it's just as believable.

Serious then as the allegations of fabrication higher up in the Met are, there's no reason as yet to believe Mitchell has been stitched up.  This doesn't so much resemble a plot against the government as it does the usual arse-covering that's endemic within the police, only this time they've been found of it.  What is worthy of further scrutiny is why the CCTV footage wasn't released earlier, when we know it was reviewed at the time.  Was it simply not to antagonise the Police Federation further, or that Cameron had already decided his whip had to go, even if it was a time of his own choosing?  If it was the latter, then this whole gambit from Mitchell looks to have been in vain anyhow.

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