… A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, happy one.
— William Schwenck Gilbert for The Pirates of Penzance.
- The picture (right) is the baritone Walter Passmore of the original production.
- The song was a favourite among London coppers, at least down to the mid-twentieth century. Malcolm heard it from his own (ex-PC) father’s lips.
Now that the dust settles on the dismal Plebgate business, now that Andrew Mitchell, a former UN peacemaker, can polish his bike in peace, there’s still the odd bit of gristle to be chewed.
As we saw in yesterday’s Sindy, John Rentoul has come over all fair-minded:
I thought Cameron made a mistake in not insisting that Mitchell step down straight away. Which is not the same as saying that I thought Mitchell deserved to resign. Indeed, I thought he was more sinned against than sinning. Being told that it is “policy” to wheel your bicycle through the pedestrian gate is monstrous anti-cyclist discrimination (and jobsworthism of the highest order). Losing your temper and swearing at a police officer is a sin, obviously, but it may not be a crime. The Court of Appeal quashed a conviction last year, ruling that police officers are used to hearing the f-word, which is “rather commonplace”, and that it was unlikely to cause them “harassment, alarm or distress”. It was the police who, in breach of their rules, gave the story to The Sun.
OK … yawn … let’s move on …
Well, perhaps not. Put aside the “rather commonplace” adverbial reinforcer, and what are we still left with?
So, let’s play it again:
“You guys are supposed to [ … ] help us.”
Consider who are “you” and who are “us”
“You” are, most immediately, the security at the Downing Street gates. In Mitchell’s mind they are there mainly to open the main gates to let him pass through: that is the beginning and end of this little demonstration of why we’re “not all in this together”.
The police officers see their role a trifle differently, indeed from a more elevated level. They are there to keep the peace, to maintain security, and to protect the entire citizenry, who may include elected politicians.
Beyond the immediate police detachment, Mitchell may be claiming ownership and the dedicated aid and assistance of the entire Metropolitan Police, and by further extension of the police service nationally. At which, Malcolm mutters, “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
We have been here before
Just how far political (i.e. Thatcherite) intervention went in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy may be just about arguable. We do know that Thatcher herself was closeted with South Yorkshire police chief a day or so before 164 police statements were re-written to fit the “official” script.
A Nottinghamshire MP is to call for an inquiry into alleged manipulation of evidence by South Yorkshire Police during the miners’ strike.
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said claims made in a BBC Inside Out programme relating to the so-called Battle of Orgreave must be examined.
The claims, that junior officers were told what to write in their statements, were “very convincing”, said Mr Mann.
South Yorkshire Police said it would consider whether a review was needed.
What we know is that the cases against arrested miners were built on false evidence, as after Hillsborough:
… a barrister specialising in criminal trials, Mark George QC, analysed 40 police officers’ Orgreave statements, and found that many contained identical descriptions of alleged disorder by the miners. To prove the offence of riot, the prosecution has to establish a scene of general disorder within which a defendant committed a particular act, for example throwing a stone, which would otherwise carry a much lesser charge.
George found that 34 officers’ statements, supposed to have been compiled separately, used the identical phrase: “Periodically there was missile throwing from the back of the pickets.”
One paragraph, of four full sentences, was identical word for word in 22 separate statements. It described an alleged charge by miners, including the phrase: “There was however a continual barrage of missiles.”
Michael Mansfield QC, who defended three of the acquitted miners, described South Yorkshire police’s evidence then as “the biggest frame-up ever”.
One case, against Bryan Moreland, spectacularly collapsed when a Home Office graphologist went on oath to declare the police officer’s signature was a fabrication. Moreover:
[Chief Constable] Wright did not accept any fault at all in the Orgreave operation and prosecutions. But he acknowledged unapologetically that there was a deliberate effort to convict miners of riot and unlawful assembly, which carried potentially long, even life, prison sentences. In a report to the police committee dated 25 September 1985, Wright set out the details of the operation to deal, he said, with escalating violence in picketing at the Orgreave coking plant, which miners have always argued was exaggerated.
“The chief constable decided that the usual charge of disorderly conduct, contrary to the Public Order Act, was inadequate and that, where appropriate, charges of unlawful assembly and riot should be preferred,” Wright wrote in his report.
We’ll be back to continue that in a moment. So far, the bottom line seems to be: in Thatcher’s day, the police — at least those of the South Yorkshire force — were supposed to [ … ] help us. We have that on the authority of the Baroness herself:
There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it. They are failing because of two things.
First, because of the magnificent police force well trained for carrying out their duties bravely and impartially (loud cheers).
And secondly, because the overwhelming majority of people in this country are honourable, decent and law abiding and want the law to be upheld and will not be intimidated, and I pay tribute to the courage of those who have gone into work through these picket lines, to the courage of those at Ravenscraig and Scunthorpe for not going to be intimidated out of their jobs and out of their future. Ladies and Gentlemen we need the support of everyone in this battle which goes to the very heart of our society. The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.
Which should all be read with implicit and emphatic first-person pronouns: My impartiality. My police. My intimidation. My law. My rules. To get her cheering audience, Thatcher had to make that speech at Banbury Cattle Market, in one of the safest Tory seats in the country.
Any blame for all this politicising of the police goes right (far right) to the top. The poor bloody constabulary were told, even ordered to submit their notebooks for editing by Chekisty and commissars. That is no obscene exaggeration: it was the way things were done in South Yorkshire under Chief Constable Wright (and so we continue from that earlier quotation):
He set up a dedicated unit to target the miners: “A chief superintendent well experienced in CID work was appointed and directed by the chief constable to organise the collection and collation of evidence, and the preparation of prosecution files whenever the scale and nature of events at Orgreave so required.”
On 18 June 1984, the day of the most notorious confrontation, when police were filmed attacking miners then claimed they were attacked first, Wright recorded: “The evidence-gathering team comprised one detective inspector, one detective sergeant, and four detective constables.” It has never been revealed who these officers or the more senior commanding officers were, nor if any were then involved in what has been labelled the black propaganda unit which conducted the campaign to falsely blame the Liverpool supporters for the Hillsborough disaster.
For the record, at that time young Andrew Mitchell was girding his loins and polishing his bicycle clips to become a devoutly Thatcherite Tory MP for the Gedling constituency of Greater Nottingham, not a million miles from the core territory of the strike-breakers.
And now for “us”
If ‘You guys are supposed to [ … ] help us’, let us consider the precise definition of us in this context.
At first sight it might be the us of the government. Yet that doesn’t quite comprehend Mitchell’s position. After all, the Chief Whip is the one senior occupant of Downing Street who is there primarily as the Gauleiter of the majority parliamentary party. Cue wikipedia:
In British politics, the Chief Whip of the governing party in the House of Commons is usually appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the Cabinet. By virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the Government Chief Whip has an official residence at 12 Downing Street. However, the Chief Whip’s office is currently located at 9 Downing Street.
To be clear, we do not have a ‘governing party’ in this parliament. We are saddled with a coalition. There are two Deputy Chief Whips, of whom one is Alistair Carmichael of the LibDems, who does not have bicycling access to Downing Street. When the Chief Whip speaks in the Commons (and, by tradition, such occasions are few and far between), it is specifically in a party-political context.
So Chief Whip Mitchell (as was) was a Conservative Party official demanding obedience from his subservient lesser-beings. Whether the term he used was “plebs” or “plods”, he was claiming l’état, c’est moi.
That is far, far more damaging than any fucking adverb.