Apparently, according to Andrew Mitchell himself, he swore at a copper who refused to open the vehicle gate to Downing Street for him. Sections of the left-wing news media describe this as an “attack on the police” at a sensitive time. The notion is clearly nonsense; it’s was an attack on one particular police officer who was, apparently, asking for it. Whether swearing at him was the best response is debatable. Perhaps formal disciplinary proceedings would have been more appropriate, but the PC’s views on it aren’t known. I suspect that in the final analysis, being sworn at for being out-of-order is preferable to being hauled in front of a disciplinary panel. The former course is more direct and achieves the same effect with the minimum of fuss. Least said, soonest mended. Except not in this case.
By all accounts the PC and the politician have apologised and made up, and this should have been the end of it. The fact that the “row” continues suggests political motivation. Trade unions (such as the Police Federation) are calling for his resignation. Well they would, wouldn’t they. This is clearly a case of “rank and file” police officers protecting their interests by pushing the government about, shamelessly exploiting public sympathy after the shocking murders of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes in Manchester to characterise a row about right-of-way as an attack on the police.
So what’s really at the heart of it? Well anyone who rides a bicycle on a regular basis will have encountered a jobsworth copper (or more often, a PCSO) telling them they can’t do this or that. Had Andrew Mitchell swept in to Downing Street in a ministerial Jag, of course they’d have opened the gate, but some sections of the police treat cyclists as second-class road users. They’re not all like that; a lot of my local police are out on bicycles themselves and have a very good understanding of the issues. But others drive around in panda cars and have the belief that cyclists have less right to use the road than they do. Actually, cyclists use the road by right and motor cars are there under license.
The police (although notably, not the PC concerned) have claimed that Andrew Mitchell called him a pleb. He denies this, and from what I can understand of his character, I’m inclined to believe him. If anything, it was the PC refusing to open the vehicle gate for a “mere” cyclist treating him with disrespect, and he retaliated by telling them to “…just open the f*ing gate!” or words to that effect. Normally, I’d stop and remonstrate politely with any anti-bicycle copper I encounter, pointing out the relevant parts of the Road Traffic Act, what counts as a right-of-way and what a court might regard as reasonable, but I’m not a government whip on a tight schedule.
The real issue here is the police, and wider society’s attitude to cyclists. The BBC journalists, trade unionists and Labour politicians quick to criticise Andrew Mitchell’s outburst at a copper with a bad attitude are doubtless used to driving around the place in cars. Andrew Mitchell isn’t the one who’s stuck up – he rides a bike. They are.
I dare say that the news media will force Andrew Mitchell out eventually unless the lid is blown on the murky back-room operation perpetuating this “row”. The people should be electing our politicians, not the police federation.