David Cameron was prepared to sacrifice a cabinet minister rather than face down the police.
Plebgate is the story that keeps on giving. From an apparently trivial incident at the gates of Downing Street over a year ago, it’s now morphed into a saga with more layers than a Great British Bake Off showstopper wedding cake.
The latest instalment, courtesy of this week’s Home Affairs Select Committee, descended into a Pinteresque play, moving even further away from the original incident and instead ended up as a linguistic MasterChef, with dissection on the menu.
Was the home secretary Theresa May disparagingly referred to as ‘that woman’ or ‘this woman’? Why did the police officer pretend he hadn’t said what he had said but then remembered that he had said it? Was anyone able to actually say sorry – or just stick to the line: “I can’t apologise for something I haven’t done”. Sorry seemed to be the hardest word.
Each time there is an attempt to investigate anything to do with plebgate, we move further away from the original incident and create new incidents which in turn lead to new investigations – and new incidents.
Over a quarter of a million pounds has already been spent on multiple investigations and actions by Scotland Yard, the DPP, the CPS, the IPCC and the Police Federation. Police officers have been accused of lying to the press, misleading MPs and insulting the home secretary; they are facing charges of misconduct and possible contempt, and they have succeeded in calling into question the integrity of the entire police force. And the show’s far from over yet.
But as sympathy grows for Andrew Mitchell, and Boris Johnson’s call for his arrest becomes as laughable as the case is intractable, one member of the cast in this soap opera seems to be escaping scrutiny – David Cameron.
His cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell had two opportunities to snuff out the story and prevent the ensuing tsunami. Firstly, Mitchell could have immediately and explicitly rebutted the original allegation but instead chose to play silly semantic games, repeatedly stating “I did not use the words that have been attributed to me”.
Why did we have to wait until his resignation letter for an official and convincing explanation of pleb-free events at the gates of Downing Street: “The offending comment and the reason for my apology to the police was my parting remark ‘I thought you guys were supposed to f**king help us’.
Moreoever, swearing in front of a police officer is very different from swearing at a police officer.
Secondly, Mitchell had taped evidence from his meeting in his constituency, proving that police officers had ‘misrepresented’ what he’d said at that meeting. Rather than reveal his evidence, Mitchell resigned. Why?
The answer, on both counts, comes via David Davis, who has revealed that Andrew Mitchell “was under instructions effectively not to pick a fight with the Police Federation, he was under instructions to try and play this down and not cause more difficulties for the government and as a result he did that”.
In other words, The Curious Incident at the Gate in the Night Time can be traced right back to the door of Downing Street. David Cameron was prepared to sacrifice a cabinet minister rather than face down the police.
No doubt the Prime Minister’s hand was forced by the timing. Had plebgate happened the preceding week, immediately after the revelation that South Yorkshire police had despicably lied and operated a cover-up over the Hillsborough disaster, it’s likely the police version of plebgate would have been dismissed out of hand.
Instead, the previous day’s brutal murder of two unarmed female police officers in Manchester created a huge wave of sympathy for police officers, and the class-war loaded ‘f**king plebs’ remark was taken as truth and fuelled an explosive story. The media, which always loves a cabinet minister on the rack, was more than happy to fan the flames. But it was a fire that Cameron didn’t have the strength or inclination to put out and preferred the lazy option of ditching Mitch.
Ironically Cameron’s weakness has ended up exposing corruption and ineptitude at the heart of the police force, giving him the upper hand in any future battles. And it’s likely Mitchell, if the rumours are to be believed, will soon be making a return to the cabinet or Brussels as EU Commissioner.
It looks like jammy Cammy may well be having his cake and eating it.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.