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We can’t understand the affair of the ill-tempered chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, or that leaked Downing Street police log, without the doctrine of original sin

Mitchell as Development Secretary was widely admired as a genuine idealist: our police, too, are respected for their dedication and courage: but what about Hillsborough?

By on Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell allegedly called the police 'plebs' in a foul-mouthed tirade (Photo: PA)

Andrew Mitchell allegedly called the police 'plebs' in a foul-mouthed tirade (Photo: PA)

Whom do you believe? A YouGov poll has found that 69 per cent of voters believe that Andrew Mitchell, the Government Chief whip, called police officers “plebs” after they refused (why?) to let him cycle through the main gates of Downing Street.

After all, the official log of the incident, somehow leaked (how exactly, I should like to know) to the Sun newspaper, proves it, doesn’t it? The report describes Mr Mitchell speaking to a female officer and “demanding exit through the main vehicle gate into Whitehall”. He was told that it was “policy” for cyclists to use the pedestrian gate.

“Mr Mitchell refused,” continues the log, “stating he was the chief whip and he always used the main gates,” the report goes on.

“I explained to Mr Mitchell that the policy was to use the side pedestrian gates and that I was happy to open those for him… After several refusals Mr Mitchell got off his bike and walked to the pedestrian gate with me after I again offered to open that for him.

“There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr Mitchell said: ‘Best you learn your ——- place… you don’t run this ——- Government… You’re ——- plebs.’

“The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior Government official.”

Well, surely, that proves it doesn’t it? The official police log? Interestingly, it’s quite clear that the Prime Minister, who knows Andrew Mitchell well, doesn’t believe this account. The minister, we are told, “looked him in the eye” and assured him that he had not used the words reported in the log. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood also appear to be sceptical: they have confirmed in a joint letter that there will not be an investigation into the conduct of the chief whip.

The fact is that there have been over recent weeks mixed signals about the basic credibility, even the decency, not only of Andrew Mitchell but also of the police. Take Andrew Mitchell first: before he was appointed chief whip because of his scary toughness, he had been by common consent one of the most dedicated holders of the office of Secretary of State for International Development, one of those Tories, like Ken Clarke, who even convinced anti-Tories allowed themselves to admire. Even the very Left-wing Jon Snow of Channel 4 News said that Mitchell was “unquestionably the best-prepared secretary of state… and that everyone in the sector knew of his commitment”. So which is he: a bad-tempered and arrogant Tory? Or a dedicated softy, determined to drive up the amount of Government aid to the poor, even during a time of economic recession? The fact is, he’s probably both: and those who know him don’t believe he would ever use the word “Pleb”

So what about that police log? The trouble is that there have been over recent weeks distinctly, even dramatically, mixed signals about the credibility and the decency of the police, too. We all believe, certainly I do, that we have good reason to be grateful for their courage and dedication. The Mitchell incident came only a week after the murder in Greater Manchester of police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes: the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper conveyed the feelings of most people when she said that “this is a painful demonstration of how police officers put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect the public” and when she went on to pay tribute “to the bravery of the two officers today who have given so much in their work to keep us safe”. Like the vast majority of her colleagues, she might have gone on to say.

But the Mitchell incident happened, too, only two weeks after the publication of the Bishop of Liverpool’s Hillsborough report, which found that South Yorkshire Police had changed some of the 164 statements made in the wake of the tragedy. No fewer than 116 of the police statements had been subjected to “substantive amendment”, had been “amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police”. There was, quite simply, a deliberate police conspiracy to hide their own culpability and to divert the blame on to the fans.

Hillsborough is not an isolated example of police mendacity, though it is certainly the most serious. There have been just too many examples, some quite recent, of — how shall I put this — the unreliability of official police statements, for that Downing Street police log to convince me that Andrew Mitchell used the word “pleb”. Apart from anything else, it’s just too much like what someone unacquainted with his social milieu might imagine him saying, if he were making up a statement meant to sound like an arrogant public schoolboy. The fact is that nobody has used the word “pleb” for years, if ever they did: so on balance (not that my opinion matters) I believe Mitchell rather than the police log. (Incidentally, as my readers will know, I am hardly a fervent admirer of this government, and Andrew Mitchell will undoubtedly over the next year or two all too effectively be bullying Tory members through the division lobbies against their convictions, in support of policies which I have more than once assailed in this column.).

The lesson of all this, surely, is that this kind of human mess isn’t even vaguely comprehensible without the doctrine of original sin. Mitchell is an unusual mixture of high-minded idealist and, occasionally, foul-mouthed bully (in fact, the perfect chief whip). The police (and here, without any knowledge of the police officers involved in the Mitchell incident, we have to generalise) are collectively dedicated, courageous, even heroic, and occasionally (I fear endemically) mendacious. In a fallen world, we get the politicians, and the police, we deserve, actually perhaps rather better than we deserve; and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be too self-righteous about any of them. Let us be grateful for their virtues; and as uncensorious as we can be of their sins.

  • paulsays

    To call someone a ‘pleb’ is quite disgusting. An angry outburst is a human failing, and one that must be apologized for too. However, for the word ‘pleb’ rather than idiot, or twerp etc etc to be the first word out of Mr. Michell’s mouth surely shows his condensation for people he considers of a ‘lower’ status than himself. To find this self-important and conceited attitude should not be acceptable in the 21st century – and it is frankly worrying that he hold such an important position in the Conservative Party.

  • Papa Sisto

    His condescension.  Condensation is what forms on your car windows when you bring hot food into it :)

  • awkwardcustomer

    Andrew Mitchell’s behaviour is typical of the average ‘cycle pest’, who seems to think that he or she has priority over every other road and pavement user.  The term ‘pleb’ is mild in comparison to the insults I have heard flung at pedestrians in particular, by this arrogant and increasingly dangerous urban breed who, incidentally, come from all walks of life. 

    I have witnessed a cyclist carrying on through a red light and nearly mowing down a group of children on a pedestrian crossing. I have been screamed at by a cyclist in lycra, a ‘lycra lout’ is the term, who didn’t see why he should stop at a red light to let pass a group of mothers walking their children home from school, again on a pedestrian crossing.  Oh, and I heard a lycra lout yell obscenities at a Community Support Officer who challenged him as he cycled through a pedestrianised market area. Cycle pests seem to believe that they have priority on pavements, and everywhere else, and the right to insult anyone who gets in their way. 

    David Cameron doesn’t believe that Andrew Mitchell used the term ‘pleb’.  David Cameron is a cyclist.  I, for one, have no hesitation in believing the police on this occasion.

  • NewMeena

    Condensation is what forms on your car windows when you bring hot food into it :)”

    Well that’s your misfortune; it doesn’t in a Bentley. 

    But seriously, although I am more inclined to believe Mr Mitchell, I think this illustrates two armies straining at their leashes to do battle, each in thrall of their righteousness.    

  • NewMeena

    PS:  The word nowadays is “chav” (nothing to do with Chatham) – as a “royal prince” recently showed.

  • paulsays

    Ha Ha lol thanks for pointing that out. Very amusing. :p

  • Patrickhowes

    Uncle Billie.Is the point to this article,man´s disobedience??!Is it the fact that the rules state that for security reasons he uses the side gate to prevent some terrorist van storming the open gates towards number 10?.That the Houses of Parliament are the garden of Eve?.You lost me on this one Uncle wills!Is it time for you to enjoy the early autumn sunshine on the Riviera??Well if this is the allergory then just as old Adam and naughty Eve,so Mr Mitchell should have been expelled from the delights of a perfect existence to from what the other readers say about cyclists,to the worldy velodrome of rude cyclists.Even Adam and Eve once found out for eating of the tree of knowledge,had the good grace and honour to resign and leave!

  • NewMeena

    David Cameron is a cyclist. ”

    I bet Hitler and Stalin were cyclists.

    Atheists are all cyclists you know.

  • theroadmaster

    If Mr Mitchel did in truth utter the condescending epithet “pleb”, it exhibits a misplaced sense of entitlement that one would associate with the squirearchy of 19th England when it was dominated by the landed ascendancy, who were usually tory in sympathy.  It is perhaps a revealing slip of the tongue, which reveals the class-ridden attitudes, still extant among Cameron’s party colleagues.  If the innocence of Mitchell is established in this affair, one might conclude that truth is in short supply when it comes to the attitude of the average bobby on the beat(which is a generalization which does a great disservice to policemen/policewomen who value it(truth) greatly.  At the end of the day, we are all human and are susceptible to the obvious weaknesses of anger and being “economical” with the truth or even lying outright, but with God’s Grace we can overcome them by striving to live a virtuous life as recommended in the Bible.

  • Guest

    I am reminded of an expression I heard some time ago: “Lies, liars and politicians.”

  • karlf

     Original sin is an extremely outdated attempt to explain aspects of of human psychology

  • Kevin

     In a fallen world, we get the politicians, and the police, we deserve

    Hence the need for the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, jury trial, the right to silence, the double jeopardy rule and, to protect all of these against a corrupt establishment, the right to bear arms.

  • Kevin

    … so what is the explanation?

  • karlf

    Try thinking about why other animals behave like we do. They get angry, jealous, affectionate. They fear perceived dangers, they get sexually excited etc etc.

  • daclamat

    If the chief whip had been baptised he would have been freed from  the bonds of original sin. Oh William, you are stretching things.  A simple answer is that the chief whip is an overbearing expletive deleted, typical of this government. That you prefer  to infer the loyal plod guilty of mendacity is unsurprising, but I would have thought that as the type of person who reads the Daily Telegraph you would have noted
    “The term has since become common parlance in public schools, such as the
    prestigious Rugby School where Mr Mitchell was educated.”
    Catholic Herald readers in general get the kind of hogwash they deserve,  but I hardly think they should have this kind of article thrust upon them

  • Jean Malley

    The world is not fallen it is evolving.

    Is this belief in the fairy story of original sin why the Catholic church is so uncensorious about child abuse?