At this rate, I’m going to be launching the Save Andrew Mitchell Fan Club

The Andrew Mitchell Gate-Gate story started off simply enough: politician does stupid thing, bungles apology and faces heavy pressure to quit. Add to that what I’ve heard from people who have worked with him, and it all seemed a straight forward story of a person with an unpleasant streak getting found out.

But you know what? The longer this has gone on, the more sympathy I have with him. Hard to believe, but consider two salient facts.

First, the leaking of confidential police documents (aka the statements recorded by the police, containing their version of what Andrew Mitchell said). It’s easy to see why they were leaked. Yet they were confidential documents, made by police in ultra-sensitive security roles and leaked to the press, perfectly suiting the police’s desire to see a minster go. Perhaps the leak as inadvertent, but this rather looks like public servants who should be fully trustworthy breaking the rules when it suits to argue their corner. And what’s more, public servants who are there to enforce rules on others. Not so good.

Second, there’s the Police Federation’s reaction to their meeting with Andrew Mitchell:

He has repeated, as to his words, a profound apology as to what he did say. He’s also repeated his denial of using many of the words reported in the officer’s notes recorded at the time, his explanation for that he did not want to get into a fire-fight with police or impugn the integrity of police officers.

All smoothed over, people getting on with things? Not at all. Despite all that was said in that quote I’ve given, the Police Federation have said that Andrew Mitchell (not a minister in charge of the police, remember) hasn’t done enough and must resign.

If trade unionists were demanding a Labour minister resign in such circumstances, saying an apology is not enough and the minister must do exactly what they want, it would hardly go down a storm – and, to my eyes at least – neither does this. First we’ve had the convenient leaks. Now the overbearing demands.

A minister having to resign because the police are investigating them? Fair enough. A minister having to resign because the police are trying to strong-arm them out of office? That’s a different matter. At this rate, I’m going to be launching the Save Andrew Mitchell Fan Club by the end of the week.

Crikey.

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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39 Comments

  • Completely agree, Mark. Also I don’t see why the integrity of the police officer should be presumed to be beyond reproach. The police in general have become overbearing and arrogant in the years since 9/11. Not their fault as an institution, I should add, but in keeping with the Labour’s anti-liberty agenda.

  • Brenda Lana Smith R. af D. 13th Oct '12 - 9:50am

    Sorry, Mark… I for one won’t be joining your floated Save Andrew Mitchell Fan Club!

  • No, he shouldn’ resign. He should be arrested and then fired. Like what happens to all the plebs who do what he did and have only their word against that of two police officers.

    Or we can let out all the others who have been put in prison for this. I prefer that but it seems unlikely in these times, being sent to prison for saying offensive things is on the rise.

  • Keith Browning 13th Oct '12 - 10:11am

    I think all people are asking for is fairness – in this case and several others of recent times – where those in parliamentary life are treated differently to the mere mortals who toil on the shop floor, the office or the dole queue. What seems obvious is that the lower down the food chain you are, the more harshly you get treated, by both your employer and the police, for exactly the same misdemeanour. The plebs are treated very differently to the ‘toffs’.

    The LibDems in government are in a position to do something to change that perception but they always seems to remain neutral or inexplicably take the Tory side.

  • Joseph Donnelly 13th Oct '12 - 10:40am

    @m

    I’m fairly worried at the suggestion you should now be arrested for calling someone a pleb

  • Richard Dean 13th Oct '12 - 10:42am

    Clear thinking, Mark. And I wonder if there’s more to ask?

    The policeman who dealth with AM on the ground made a decision not to arrest him, so that would be expected to be the end of the police involvement. How did the story then get out? I haven’t followed the details much, but I can imagine the policeman being rather upset and wanting to grumble. Perhaps a reporter overheard him muttering to himself, or talking to a colleague, or reporting the incident on the police radio?

    So if the story results from a reporter overhearing a muttering or a conversation between police officers, there was skullduggery by the press! Is it legal for the press to listen in on private conversations between police officers, or to report information gleaned from listening to police radio traffic? Was a mobile phone involved? Or is this a story of the press offering a policeman a bribe? Bribes come in many forms, not just monetary.

    Can this be the press getting revenge for Leveson? If the true story is one of press criminality, it may be unikely that the press are going to continue by giving us the full facts!

  • Peter Watson 13th Oct '12 - 10:45am

    @Mark
    I’m not overly impressed by your selective quote which makes the police federation’s position seem inconsistent. The fuller quote from the link you reference makes it much clearer that Mitchell is still fumbling his apology:
    “I think Mr Mitchell now has no option to resign, he is continuing to refuse to elaborate on what happened. I think his position is untenable. He has repeated, as to his words, a profound apology as to what he did say . He’s also repeated his denial of using many of the words reported in the officer’s notes recorded at the time, his explanation for that he did not want to get into a fire-fight with police or impugn the integrity of police officers. Unfortunately we’re left in a position where his continued denial of the facts recorded in police records does exactly that. So we are no further forward than we were an hour ago.”
    Lib Dems owe nothing to a tory chief whip (or culture secretary or defence secretary) and should call for the sacking or resignation of those whose behaviour falls short of the standards required. We would show no mercy when a Labour MP says or does something reprehensible so why should we be so tolerant of our coalition partners.

  • Peter Watson 13th Oct '12 - 10:52am

    An interesting dilemma arises for liberals over the publication of the police documents in this case …
    Was it leaking, reprehensible and politically motivated?
    Was it whistleblowing, exposing hypocrisy and a cover-up?
    And is the classification determined by principles, or simply by whether or not one likes Mitchell more than the police?

  • Mark, I think you are completely out of touch with the majority of the public on this one.

    If I had stood at the front gates of Number 10 and yelled at Cameron your a FU****G Toff, you selfish greedy bas***d, Remember you work for us.
    Do you suppose that a mere apology on my behalf would have be accepted and a line drawn under it? or do you suppose I would have been arrested for a public disorder and hauled before the courts?

    Yes Mitchell’s hands are tied on this one.
    If he admits to exactly what was said, the prime minister would have no choice but to sack him.
    If he does not admit to exactly what he said, the police and the public and opposition, will continue to call for him to resign or be sacked.
    But the truth of the matter is, regardless of whether Mitchell used the word “pleb” or not, in my opinion is irrelevant, he has admitted to using the words, “you Fu****g work for us” which in itself should see him removed from government. {if we lived in a fair and open society that is} where we are all bound by the same standards.

  • Peter Watson 13th Oct '12 - 10:58am

    @Joseph Donnelly
    Wasn’t Boris Johnson applauded by his fellow tories for declaring that someone should be arrested for swearing at a policeman? The depressing hypocrisy of the tories on this matter does not surprise me, but the tacit defence of it by Lib Dems does.

  • Let him tell us what he thinks he might have said, if he can remember. He has severely damaged his party’s image, he has lost his own authority as chief whip, and he has antagonised the police. He is a liability and should be jettisoned.

  • Politicians routinely leak when it suits so I can have no sympathy when it happens to them. Also, he has yet to state openly what he actually did say, if it differs from the police account but is a phrase that could be misheard then so be it, if not one party is telling a lie.

    If either a government minister or a police officer, in what is a legal document, lie then either would stand to lose their job. As it must be one or the other then a proper investigation is needed and one or other head must roll. At present he wants it both ways, he wants to imply the police are being untruthful without giving them recourse to a proper hearing in which their side of the story can be heard.

    According to the accounts we have now heard, this country was led by a bully who was prone to abusive outbursts. In my opinion if the stories about Brown’s temper were true he had no place around a cabinet table. The same is true now, if you cannot hold your temper when dealing with the police, should you be a Cabinet Minister ?

  • Also worth pointing out that after the leaks from both coalition parties prior to the budget this year to achieve a better bargining position, any complaints regarding leaks by ministers is beyond hypocrisy.

  • Mark

    So I assume that you are saying that the police account was economical with the actualité as, whether it was leaked or not? If this is the case then it is a disciplinary offence and would also perhaps be a conspiracy as two have said the same thing.

    It would help if Mitchell shared with us what he actually said and that could be judged as to whether there has been an error in hearing etc. If necessary and investigation should be carried out as to who said what – this should only take an hour or so and be relatively simple. The complication will arise if the policeman was found to have written an untruth in his book, which is a serious offence, or Mitchell’s story is found to be nonsense. In both cases it would be correct to take it further

    You seem to have forgotten that the reason we have still been talking about this is that Mitchell has given a very poor defence of his actions and has not been open. It is all self-inflicted

    I also find it interesting that you are so keen to rush to the defence of someone who has a history of boorish behaviour – perhaps the LD have some favours to return after the disgraceful rehabilitation of Laws?

  • Richard Dean 13th Oct '12 - 12:21pm

    Who leaked the original story? Was it perhaps AM himself, in what he thought might be a private conversation with a journalist?

  • @ Joseph Donnelly – I am too, but at least it would be very fair provided the same applies to calling someone a “toff”.

  • Joseph Donnelly

    I don’t think the word that causes problem is necessarily pleb but the apparent swearing and aggressive use of the preceding word.

    I live in an inner-city area and have done all my life. Anyone using such an approach to the police would have been battered in the back of a Maria (in the 80s) or, more recently, arrested.

    I think you have the wrong target – the number of boorish upper class fools arrested (using the Bullingdon Club antics as an example) is probably much less than those who commit the same deeds on the streets near where I live.

    The Mitchell story is all about his boorish behaviour in the first instance and his lack of openness afterwards. Someone is fibbing here and in either case, a Minister or a Policeman, fibbing (don’t want to use the L word as may be modded) is a serious offence

  • Andrew Mitchell is, (by definition!) saying that the police are lying. And the police are simply asking him to clear the matter up by telling them what he did say?
    It sounds like a reasonable request to me, given that the police force may have to discipline the officers if they have been shown to have lied?

  • @bazzasc exactly.

    For my part I don’t even want people arrested for swearing, at police or anyone, let alone for using the word pleb (or toff). But they are and to preserve the rule of law he should be too.

    I guess though there’s an open question as to whether people are generally given one chance to stop. Then again, according to the notebook he then said something that I would interpret as a threat so I’m not surprised it was pushed up to the police fed.

  • Kim Spence-Jones 13th Oct '12 - 12:57pm

    The problem with this case, as so often these days, is that there is wrong on both sides.

    Firstly, I find it bizarre that a man in a senior government position can admit to losing his temper and swearing at police, and yet expect to remain in post (personally, I’d prefer that he resign from politics: respect for others is a core Liberal principle).

    Secondly I am very uncomfortable that confidential police records have found their way into the public domain. And even more uncomfortable that the Police Federation seems to be using the story for political ends. But I am inclined to view that as a lesser sin (more whistleblowing than leaking): given the brazen behavior of AM, what other course is there to achieve natural justice?

    But this incident is no mere storm in a teacup. It it much more like the tip of an iceberg. I call for a move back to the days when politicians immediately resigned permanently from public life when disgraced. It’s vital for the future health of democracy; only this way will the populace’s faith in politics be restored.

  • Tony Dawson 13th Oct '12 - 1:22pm

    ” He’s also repeated his denial of using many of the words reported in the officer’s notes recorded at the time, his explanation for that he did not want to get into a fire-fight with police or impugn the integrity of police officers.”

    So he says he does not want to do what he already has done? !? He has already impugned the integrity of those officers by denying their version of events in some detail. Given that they are not Chief Constables, the officers might well even be telling the truth?

  • This whole episode is not good for the Conservatives on the doorstep. It feeds into the impression that people have that the Conservatives have of front line and factory workers. It is minor but is part of the reason why the Conservatives are losing support. I don’t think it is a good idea for us to back or help Mitchell in any way and am baffled why this is being proposed. Are any of the people supporting Mark’s suggestion members of the party from before 2010 ?

    @Peter Watson – I agree with you. What is going on here ?

  • I have no recollection of commenting on this thread, I may have said something unguarded, but I am certain it did not involve ranting and raving. I apologise for any offense caused by what I believe I did not say or if said was taken out of context.. I would like to put the whole affair behind me as I have very serious things to do. However, I may find it necessary to spend more time with my family

  • @Mark
    It’s not that I think two wrongs make a right, rather that I have no sympathy for Mitchell. I guess if we use another saying it would be that those who live by the sword…

    My view is that his actions are not (irrespective of whether he used the term pleb) those that should be expected of a cabinet minister. That said if the police have tried to exaggerate what was said then I would also expect them disciplined.

    There is the whistleblower point made above to consider. If he had called me a pleb and told me to “know my place” and then was trying to brush this under the carpet I would want it in the public domain. In the aftermath I heard all sorts of accusations laid at the police door, including that they were just there to “open gates” by Mellor on radio 5.

    The police at that gate have a significant duty to perform, and do so as a constant target by association with those they guard. They deserve better and Cameron should have set an example.

  • There is perhaps, another reason that this is a sore that will not heal.
    There is the allegation, yet to be tested by an inquiry, that 23 years ago some 162 police officers, may have lied, and re-wrote their notes to cover up what happened at Hillsborough.
    By supporting Mitchell, Cameron is basically saying that 23 years on, the integrity and evidence of police officers is still to be considered as dubious. No wonder the police are furious with a half hearted apology that leaves their integrity in doubt.
    Cameron should give Mitchell the choice. Stand at the dispatch box and clarify exactly what he did say, or resign.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Oct '12 - 7:24pm

    @ Peter Watson: ” Lib Dems owe nothing to a tory chief whip (or culture secretary or defence secretary) and should call for the sacking or resignation of those whose behaviour falls short of the standards required. We would show no mercy when a Labour MP says or does something reprehensible so why should we be so tolerant of our coalition partners.”

    Exactly right. We are not apologists for the Tories.

  • Why do people try to make a tenuous connection with Hillsborough FFS? In a democracy politicians have to make some tiny attempt to appeal to voters. Mitchell makes no attempt and shows only contempt.

  • Stephen Donnelly 13th Oct '12 - 9:02pm

    Helen & others. Liberals own nothing to Andrew Mitchell but we do not want to live in a country where the police choose Government ministers. Principle rather than tribal politics.

  • Stephen Donnelly

    As well as being a rather overblown and rather silly comment I think you are missing the point of the whole issue completely.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Oct '12 - 10:43am

    I think that the point has been missed, had he done wrong within the law? If you, or I did it, what would happen? Those who support this man, should give it a try then you have the correct answer. I won’t though, leave it to them.

  • Guy Patterson 14th Oct '12 - 10:47am

    This matter is entirely between Mitchell and the Metropolitan Police, and that is where it should be left.

  • Labour must be loving every minute he remains in office. It’s free electoral damage to the two coalition parties, especially with articles like this being written.

  • Thanks Mark. You have changed my view which was, of course simplistic anti Tory.

  • Guy

    I am sorry but that is naïve. If I had sworn at the police I would be arrested. The fact he wasn’t says a lot for how the law differs for those with power.

    The main point, however, is that either the police or him have told an untruth – or at least there has been a huge misunderstanding – and it is important that this gets sorted out.

    The Met were leaned on by the Cabinet Office and Heywood

  • Helen Dudden 14th Oct '12 - 8:49pm

    That is not exactly how the law should work, people leaning on others to change things, lot of that in the newspapers lately. This does no good, skeletons fall out of cupboards, when you least expect it.

  • Old Codger Chris 15th Oct '12 - 10:28am

    Being a Whip he’s obviously not in charge of a department so that’s OK.

    Let Cameron keep defending him – most voters won’t care much either way (it’s hardly a major issue) but it all adds to the general impression that there’s a high proportion of arrogant bullying toffs in today’s Tory hierachy.

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