The Andrew Mitchell feeding frenzy is worse than the offence

The Andrew Mitchell affair is the latest example of the wide gap between media chatter and the complexities and confusion of that other planet we call real life. A politician’s  career is threatened by an episode of poor behaviour. He’s being held to account for it by the cynical and opportunist who hypocritically set impossibly high standards of behaviour. The public school image it conjures up for this old  Rugbeian is poor Tom Brown, held to the fire by the bully Flashsman. .  Why do they do it?  To create new plots for the soap opera that public life has become. And everybody falls for it and plays the game, none more so than political leaderships who are its main accessories and so often, its victims. This is the politics of the Roman amphitheatre and the stocks, far more unpleasant than the offence itself.

Look at it another way. Part of Mitchell’s sense of security and yes, status has long been the ability to ride his bike through the Downing St gates.  He loses it when some plod ( another offensive term but OK class wise,) take it into his head to order him to wheel the bloody thing back up Downing St  a bit and go down the path to the pedestrian exit. Tiresome, and he loses it. We don’t quite know why he did it but we all make the same mistake of losing our temper.  Unwise, wrong, rude, all that. Surprising even.  But career threatening? Get a grip.

Not that police officers as a class are treated any better. Today they’re all saints, just after the murder of the two Manchester woman officers. The other day they were brutes or incompetents, pushing over a hapless  alcoholic to his death , executing a man with a gun through a car window and sparking two days of riots,  and telling lies to cover up the gross negligence of Hillsborough.

The habit of sensationalising error is eroding standards of public justice and corroding civilised behaviour.  We see far more alarming examples of it in the Muslim fury that sweeps the world. Social media seems to fuel it. A counter weight is not in sight. If people is public life are not cut the same slack we demand for ourselves, fear of attack will paralyse them from taking decisions. There are  signs of this happening already. The Conservatives will never detoxify their brand – if that is really their problem – if they fail to show self confidence in admitting error and moving on.   Waving around hack phrases like “ out of touch “ and “the arrogance of power “  is no substitute for  grown up behaviour.

Modern Toryism is schizophrenic about class. As a whole they’re equivocating  about Mitchell’s resignation.  They tend to denounce the politics of envy. On the other hand when they sniff  a good story about  a  toff’s bad behaviour, they’ll pounce, like the Mail.  The best the Torygraph can come up with is a quite a good attempt to laugh it off. For now, it will have to do.

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  • Mc Slaggart

    I wonder how many jobs you would not get into trouble if you told a member of the public to:

    1 “”Best you learn your f****** place. You don’t run this f****** Government. You’re f****** plebs,”

    Your response makes me wonder if it common in the canteen at the posh BBC Brian?

    1 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/mitchell-comments-beyond-unacceptable-says-top-lib-dem-8165551.html

  • George

    Person in a public position uses threatening and abusive behaviour towards a police officer, which if the officer wished to pursue it would be a criminal offence and not just bad behaviour.

    If a member of government can’t abide by even the simplest rule of law, namely the maintenance public order, are they fit for office?

  • Brian Walker

    Both early comments ignore the issue of proportionality
    Mc Slaggart,

    “Get into trouble” yes, sacked no

    George, But did it amount to ” threatening behaviour?” The policeman involved seems to have thought not and has accpeted an apology, we’re told. If everyone who swore a cop was arrested, we’d to build new skyscrapers of interview rooms and custody cells. Isn’t the idea of arrest for this sort of thing just a tiny bit oppressive?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think the context where two police officers were shot dead a matter of days ago is relevant.

    Aside from that, I think it’s an outrageous way to talk to anyone, police officer or not, and someone who has attitudes like that should not be in public office.

  • George

    Brian,
    I believe the standard is whether the behaviour caused the police officer harassment, alarm or distress.

    Calling someone a moron in an agressive manner would meet the standard in my view. The fact that he was given a chance and warned to desist or he would be arrested under the Public Order Act would indicate that the officer was indeed harassed, alarmed or distressed.

    People get arrested every day of the week for public order offences. Whether it is oppressive or not is beside the point in this case. As a member of government, Mr Mitchell has a responsibility to uphold the law rather than to consider himself above it.

    Furthermore, he is one of the few people in the country who has the individual influence to bring about change in the law by methods other than disobedience.

    I might not want to pay for a TV licence but if heaven forbid I suddenly found myself working in an important position at the BBC, I would certainly put aside any reservations and stump up the cash. Certain acts and behaviour have to come with certain jobs.

  • Clanky

    Brian, while I agree with you that the feeding frenzy from certain quarters has been very distasteful, I do believe that while the comments themselves did not necessarily justify the scale of the reaction, the attitude which it betrays (or may be seen to betray) does.

    We have already had one Tory MP call the prime minister and the chancellor a couple of posh public school boys with no clue about real life, we now have another government minister acting in a way which indicates that he believes that ordinary people are worthy of contempt for being ordinary.

    Similar behaviour has just (hopefully) severely Damaged Mitt Romney’s chances of becoming the next president of the USA.

    It does however grate a little to hear the media sitting in such pious judgement over the morals of others in light of their own recent behaviour.

  • Mitchell does not seem to have done much more than any minor politician or minor celebrity.
    You have to be a really major figure to get away with what is basically a “dont you know who I am?” outburst…..against a policeman….even if hes being a bit bolshy.
    You can get away with it with a traffic warden.
    And thats I think the difference.
    It would have been possible for a politician…not necessarily a Tory one….to have said this kinda thing to a policeman 30 years ago when policemen were drawn from a different part of society.
    Policemen are now part of the establishment and cannot be ridiculed.

    Too much made of it? Well yes..in the sense that every motorist, pedestrian or other who has ever had a disagreement with a police officer is likely to say something which in the cold light of day looks nasty and rather foolish.
    No he shouldnt be arrested. Policemen have discretion and there does from the Police Federation seem to be an undercurrent of point-scoring.
    Having been revealed…..is Mitchell still fit to hold office? Probably except for the fact that a Chief Whip cannot be a liability.

  • Mr Walker’s headline piece is fair, a useful counterbalance, but essentially misjudged.

    We should recognise that Mitchell has “form”.

    The Telegraph (I’m relishing how the ‘Torygraph” is going soft-UKIP) has been to the fore here: the anecdote by Lucy Kinder is instructive. So is the jokier piece by Matthew Norman. Whatever that latter article is, I wouldn’t share Mr Walker’s interpretation of quite a good attempt to laugh it off. I didn’t find the “laugh” in this paragraph:

    his has of course been a week of barely precedented horror for the British police. A more sensitive man, even when forced to dismount and wheel his bike a few yards, would have had in mind the murders of two WPcs in Manchester, and the grief felt by their colleagues. Such a man may even had been aware, within a week of the Hillsborough report’s publication, that more tragic things than an affront to monstrous arrogance have flowed from the police refusal to open a gate.

    First whispers suggest the Sundays will have more of the same, and more Mitchell wit and wisdom.

    I’d guess, in the short term, Mitchell will keep his job (because Cameron cannot afford to lose him, and because Labour relish the embarrassment of his continued survival). Even so, sooner or later he will have to answer for Wednesday. And he has now reached the apex of any political ambitions.

    The key to the whole nasty business wasn’t the expletives: it was that single word, “plebs”. No amount of mitigation can erase that. In the ’50s I was expected to doff my Sea Scout hat to the Earl of Leicester: in 2012 should we be ruled by types with such a squirearchical mindset?

    From here in the heights of Muswell Hill I can hear the sound of hands rubbing, and chortles of blond gaiety. It’s probably Mayor Johnson and his re-assertion:

    Earlier this year Scotland Yard Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said there “were still opportunities” to arrest members of the public for swearing at police despite a judge ruling that it is not a crime.

    Asked if Mr Johnson stood by comments he made last year that people who swear at police should expect to be arrested, the Mayor’s official spokesman said: “Yes, he does.”

  • Greenflag

    Romnitis must be contagious . Did he leave a dose behind after his recent visit ?

    Perhaps Romnitis is like a Star Trekkie with Alzheimers not knowing which planet they’re from ? Another symptom could be always/ never having to say you’re sorry/apologizing without really meaning/not meaning it .

    Tend to agree with Fitz above . Next time the Chief whip has to ‘discipline ‘ a party colleague will he hear the retort ‘

    ‘P**s off you ponsified posh Etonian git ‘ ? I’m not your pleb ;)?

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Brian Walker (profile) 22 September 2012 at 12:16 pm
    Both early comments ignore the issue of proportionality
    Mc Slaggart,

    “Get into trouble” yes, sacked no”

    He is an MP the only people who can sack him is those who voted for him.

    Which shop would keep a member of the staff on the till if they came out with such a rant?

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm and others, I can’t judge how relevant are the stories emerging from the woodwork about Mitchell’s “form.”

    I’d need them balanced by why he was appointed in the first place.

    Are you sure personal bias isn’t intruding just a wee bit?

    The key issue for me is fairness towards people who aren’t entirely likeable to me and whose views I might not particuarly like either. Personal likes and dislikes are not good reasons for wanting someone destroyed.

  • Brian Walker @ 2:16 pm:

    Are you sure personal bias isn’t intruding just a wee bit?

    This grandson of a Hallamshire miner son of a London copper can assure Mr Walker that any animus is not just a wee bit.

    As I understand it, the Mitchell millions were made by huckstering for Lazards, dodgy property deals and tax-avoidance, and the odd Pritt-stick.

  • I tend to agree with Mr Redfellow. Indeed I think I saw something on the TV News that suggested Mitchell was more Flashman than Tom Brown.
    But I think there is a class issue here. Twenty odd years ago, a junior Minister….was it Roger Freeman?……made some kinda statement about trains where there should be some cheap and cheerful carriages for secretaries.

    Im not sure that I remember it correctly but it was more laughable than sackable.
    I dont think a Tory can really get away with being “out of touch” to the same extent.
    Tories seem confused. They are playing the “Toff” card and the “Ordinary Bloke” card.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Are you sure personal bias isn’t intruding just a wee bit?”

    You should write a play about it “He Calls an Inspector”?

    What I find funny is that I agree with him a bike should use the road not the pavement. You just cannot call people names at work. Would you call a security guard those names?

  • “Would you call a security guard those names?”

    It depends. Theres a hierarchy to these things. Basically only the Chief Executive can get away with abusing a security guard, a rank and file employee probably wouldnt.
    Uppity celebs in Beverley Hills CAN have waitresses and car valets sacked.
    But a politician and a policeman (a public servant not an employee) is a different matter.
    In a way its fairly standard fare “who do you think I am ? I play golf with the Chief Constable” but when it makes the news…….well thats different……..and is usually more confined to councillors in (say) Yorkshire rather than London.

    You can get away with a lot if youre popular. You can get away with little if youre unpopular. And maybe a real toff can get away with more than someone who just comes across as self important.
    The real problem with stuff coming out of the woodwork is that it would not come out if the person was popular.

    And that is really a genuine point. Is unpopularity or nastiness a legitimate area of politics? This really is the dividing line between Mock The Week, The Thick of It……and “real” news.
    All political aides, political colleagues, journalists and yes……policemen must have seen senior politicians act differenty in public than in private.
    When does it become legitimate?
    At the gates of Downing Street…….Mitchell can have few complaints.

  • Comrade Stalin

    fitz:

    It would have been possible for a politician…not necessarily a Tory one….to have said this kinda thing to a policeman 30 years ago when policemen were drawn from a different part of society.
    Policemen are now part of the establishment and cannot be ridiculed.

    I have a much bigger problem with the attitude than the issue of to whom it was addressed.

    If he had been talking to the person cleaning the toilets it would be the same problem, or possibly worse. Cameron’s talking about everyone being in it together and pulling their weight, and then you have this tosser flaunting his authority. (he’s only the chief whip for pete’s sake).

    The other part I dislike about it is how the rest of us (plebs if you will) generally take care not to give back talk to police officers lest we find ourselves arrested for breaching the peace or fined for having a faulty brake light. This Tory gentleman thought that his position in government obviates him from this requirement; he has special privileges and he is not afraid to call on them.

    McSlaggart:

    He is an MP the only people who can sack him is those who voted for him.

    He is an appointee of the Prime Minister, and the PM can sack him.

  • Comrade Stalin……we rarely agree but Im in total agreement with you here. Everybody deserves equal respect. And its a sign of good breeding so to speak to have good manners to all.
    I just make the point that while people make the point that people were more respectful in years gone by…..policemen have moved up the social ladder since Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars.
    Im not entirely convinced by (but open to) the argument that the Miners Strike was the line in the sand where Police became “middle class”.
    Certainly the Police Federation…….and they seem heavily involved in this………where previously a quiet word in the ear of someone in Downing Street would have sufficed.
    Although we all seen those real life programmes about Traffic Policemen or whatever on TV and reflected on how much verbal abuse police have to listen to on a daily basis……and it seems to come from an underclass and a middle class alike……..those of us from humble backgrounds just wouldnt have the self-confidence to demur from anything a policeman says.
    Theres a few “jobsworths”. Certainly some 20 years ago I would have wished I had been more fortright when I came back to our car to find an over-bearing policeman constantly refer to my wife by her first name……I guess you had to be there.
    Certainly now I would speak up. Certainly now a policeman wouldnt be that over-bearing. Mr Mitchell would probably have been more forthright.
    And yes I think we do have a touch of class envy that we “perceive” Mitchell would get away with things that we wouldnt. But frankly outside most local pubs every weekend police are subject to abuse. The risk of arrest is not high.

  • IJP

    The Andrew Mitchell affair is the latest example of the wide gap between media chatter and the complexities and confusion of that other planet we call real life.

    A superb start to a spot-on article – and a welcome reminder that it is not just in NI that this happens.

    Brian Walker hits the nail on the head again.

  • IJP

    By the way, Mitchell should actually have resigned instantly – he would have saved his career by so doing.

    But for it to be the main news story four days later is ludicrous.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Comrade Stalin
    “Andrew John Bower Mitchell (born 23 March 1956) is a Conservative Party politician, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sutton Coldfield”

    Wikipedia

    Even if he ends up in the back benches he still has a job.

  • I read an article last week, supposedly true.
    A well known politician was at an airport check-in desk and the clerk asked him for I.D. The politician said “Do you know who I am?” The clerk picked up the telephone, connected to the P.A. system and announced “There is a gentleman at the desk who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone knows him could they please come to the desk”.

  • Mc Slaggart

    ” only the Chief Executive can get away with abusing a security guard”

    Not if there is other people around to see it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    fitz,

    Yeah I agree .. good manners.

    I find, interestingly, that a lot of the really successful people in life are able to do well and still be nice to everyone irrespective of their standing, and who still find themselves able to hang out with those lower down the ladder. It is a characteristic in political leaders that people appreciate too, hence politicians sometimes going to some effort to big up their credentials in that area (eg the PM eating dinner with the troops in Baghdad, or the famous picture of Obama fist-bumping a cleaner).

    WRT the cops, yeah I don’t think they should get away with needlessly giving people shit, and most of them know that. But polite questions deserve polite answers, and co-operation.

  • Greenflag

    @ mister joe ,

    “There is a gentleman at the desk who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone knows him could they please come to the desk”.

    LOL

    Thats a keeper mj

  • Thanks, chaps, good thread. keep it spinning.

    Much as I vary from Mr Walker’s thrust, I’d have to find a degree of sympathy for his original premiss: The Andrew Mitchell feeding frenzy is worse than the offence, if only because the frenzied feeders are the all-devouring media, and the “offender” is an individual.

    So, while I’ve been out-and-about
    — reserving the Pert Young Piece’s place in the Groundlings’ queue for the Globe (it’s Twelfth Night with Rylands and Stephen Fry),
    — casually visiting the odd Thameside, Islington and Highgate watering-holes on the long road home;
    — and just, as here, having a metropolitan brag about it all,
    the odd notion passed my consciousness.

    First (and most damaging): No true Anglo-Irish or English gentry would have behaved as Mitchell has. Simply put: he cannot win from this position. That was the point of my blog-posts. If anyone wishes to press the issue, I’d also be drawing damaging contrasts between the likes of the Esmondes (of Ballynastragh in the County of Wexford) and certain sycophants of “Big House” Unionism — but, OK, that’s another story.

    Second, I’ve had to deal with the residue of English squirearchy. For all their faults, they give back — not just money (of which they are always short) but more-to-the-point effort and time: noblesse oblige. Above all, unlike Mitchell, they give due respect. That’s what has distinguished them from the strata of Veneerings (go and read Our Mutual Friend) who have come and gone over the last century or three.

    Third: OK — put myself in Mitchell’s position. I’m under extreme pressure. Blood pressure’s steaming. I’ve got a crucial appointment to keep. Someone blocks me. I lose my cool, big time. It’s in the papers. What next?

    Well, grin and bear it. Insist on the offence being recorded. The worst that can happen is a formal admonition. Cue for a visit from the Station Sergeant. [Invitation to all the snappers.] Head-bowing, acceptance of rebuke, etc. Photo-opportunity! Mega-contrition! Public shaking of hands! National heroism guaranteed!

    Why didn’t I go into PR-work?

  • Reader

    Brian Walker: Are you sure personal bias isn’t intruding just a wee bit?
    I have nothing at all against Conservatives in general, no matter what their accent. I might wonder if a story from the Sun and the police can entirely be relied upon. I would regard the Police Federation histrionics as extravagant and tacky. I can give what’s his name the full benefit of the doubt over the disputed words.
    But the parts of the story that are not in dispute mark him out as a man with no self control and a massive sense of entitlement. He should not hold a responsible job, let alone a high profile job. But he’s a Government Whip; that’s not too worrying – I had never heard of him before now. Being a complete git may even be part of the job description.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Being a complete git may even be part of the job description.’

    Git yes -complete no. FU (Francis Urquhart _House of Cards ) when interviewed by young Mattie as to the job of Chief Whip admitted it was like being the Head Prefect at a public school . Anybody who has been to public school will understand that the difference between a Head Prefect and Attila the Hun is that the latter was by far a much kinder and humane individual 😉

  • Comrade Stalin

    GF – you reckon Mitchell is the kind of chap to put a bit of stick about ? Make ’em jump ?

  • Greenflag

    @comrade stalin,

    From reading Malcolm Redfellow’s links above that would appear to be the case but then I’d aver that such a trait would in any case be a necessary requirement for the job . About as required as the necessity of being a Catholic is to becoming Pope 😉

    The problem here appears to be that Mr Mitchell has mistaken a London Bobby for one of his backbenchers and has now ended up using his stick on himself . Mr Andrew ‘I’m a naughty boy ‘Mitchell reenacting a modern day political re run of that maniacal scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil is forced to berate himself in the hotel lobby –sorry can’t find the link ..

  • This story really is the gift that keeps on giving. Five days on and there are still gems amid the dross.

    Presently I’m much taken by the proliferation of “friends” Mr Mitchell seems to have ready to speak out, anonymously, on his behalf. This has become so blatant, even the usual media outlets are insisting “friend” comes “quoted” fore-and-aft.

    One “friend” I’d missed (The Sun not being among my usual journals of record) cropped up in the delightfully suggestive:

    A friend said last night that Mr Mitchell would be “very relaxed” about any investigation.
    Meanwhile, former Tory minister David Mellor lashed out at police with a bribery smear in a bid to save Mr Mitchell’s skin.
    He said: “A police officer tipped off The Sun, and probably received money for doing so.”

    Pot? Kettle? Bleedin’ great cauldron?

    For the record, Basil Fawlty’s auto-flagellation is at:

  • … the gift that keeps on giving.

    Indeed. Now this from Nick Robinson:
    I am amused by the fact that the government Chief Whip can admit to repeatedly using the F word in front of the boys in blue but cannot dare admit to saying pleb – something which he continues to deny in private.

    Here we have a game anyone can play. Vince Cable diverted from his published (and, presumably, Politburo-approved) LibDem Conference script to add:
    I’m told jokes about social class are not good for the Coalition, but as a mere pleb I couldn’t resist it.

  • Greenflag

    The new Lib Dem Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne said:

    “Explaining to the media what was not said, is not the same as explaining to the media what was said”.

    In other words -up is not down and black is not white -sheer brilliance from the Minister 😉

    It would appear Mr Mitchell remains unconvinced of the Lib Dems Minister’s sagacious input .

  • The story has caught my imagination because it’s a battle of two authorities – the inflexible jobsworth plod with an inflated sense of their own importance, and the Tory toff with an inflated sense of their own importance. The story keeps giving because the Tory has been likely caught out spoofing about what he said, and the cops won’t let it lie. It’s like being a neutral party at a boxing match – you don’t care who wins, you just want a good show and for them to knock the crap out of each other.

  • andnowwhat

    The Daily Telegraph has published what it says is the official police report. Whilst Mitchell is not reported as having used the word moron, he did use pleb and was very close to being arrested

  • andnowwhat
  • andnowwhat
  • DoppiaVu

    Gonzo

    Seems he’s not so much an inflexible plod – the Telegraph report clearly indicates that the copper had been explicitly instructed to prevent cyclists using the main gate.

  • andnowwhat

    Actually, it seems that the cop was female. It’s been reported that Cameron did not read the report.

  • Things go from bad to worse.

    I have had to address the following complaint to Mr Gove, expressing my distress over the low standards of language among his ministerial colleagues:

    Mr Nicholas Watt, of The Guardian, reports:
    “The most authoritative account of Mitchell’s side of his confrontation with the police was published by the Sunday Telegraph. In his weekly column, Matthew d’Ancona wrote that Mitchell has admitted that he swore, though it was not aimed directly at the police.
    “The paper says that Mitchell admitted muttering in earshot of the police: “You guys are supposed to fucking help us.”
    “Mitchell has let it be known he used the word “adjectivally” and was not directing it at the police.”
    Can you make it clear to Mr Mitchell that the usage there is adverbial, as an adverb of degree?

  • andnowwhat

    Last week, I heard. Legal eagle say that Mitchell could only be charged with breach of the peace if there were other people who saw what happened. Today’s report says that there were, as there tends to be at the gate, tourists and they were apparently shocked at what they witnessed.

  • Greenflag

    @ malcolm redfellow ,

    A belated thanks for that Fawlty Towers link above 🙂

    ‘Can you make it clear to Mr Mitchell that the usage there is adverbial, as an adverb of degree?’

    lol –

    Perhaps Mr Mitchell ought to be subjected to the third (not turd) degree as here outlined- in the interest purely of extracting the truth ?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_degree_(interrogation)

  • Greenflag

    @ andnowwhat ,

    ‘Today’s report says that there were, as there tends to be at the gate, tourists and they were apparently shocked at what they witnessed.’

    Perhaps they were American tourists and were not shocked at all but merely disappointed that the cop did’nt pull his gun and shoot the clearly out of control ‘ranter’ 😉 ?

    But then the British policeman/woman was probably unarmed .

  • I love the fact that the first place the copper ran to was the Sun. It’s almost like Leveson never happened. Hope the Telegraph didn’t pay for the notes..!