Much has been said about Tory Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell’s tirade aimed at two policemen in Downing Street. In anticipation of any stereotyping – i.e. thinking of them as ‘plod’ – these officers were from SO1, the national security branch in the Metropolitan Police responsible for providing specialist protection for the current and former prime ministers, along with other government ministers.
Having explained their role and exposed the hierarchy of the police service involved in this branch of anti-terrorism, you will no doubt understand that opening the gates to Downing Street is not a simple matter at all. There is surely a complex system of permissions and authorities to be adhered to. Despite their ornamental appearance, the gates are extremely robust, acting as the last line of defence as a counter-terrorism measure – the other measures, by the way, rely on gathered intelligence. They are electronically linked to various systems that will alert officers elsewhere, stationed well outside the perimeter to steward and co-ordinate traffic around the area. – That means that every time those gates are opened, not only does it cost public money, but it inconveniences the public (the traffic lights alter the flow) and causes disruption. The gates were installed in 1989, because of the perceived increased level of violence from the IRA following the assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher in Brighton.
Having said all of that it is now not difficult to realise why Andrew Mitchell’s outburst was not only offensive and inappropriate, but wholly and wilfully ran counter to what must have been his understanding concerning the security measures that are in place at that location. Remember that the Chief Whip’s office is located at 9, Downing Street, so the chief whip must have been appraised and aware of security protocols that allowed the gate to be opened. Had the officers misunderstood what constitutes an authorised opening of the Downing Street gates, Mr. Mitchell would have been well placed to gently remind them that, under currently approved procedures, the gates should be opened for him. “Best you learn your f!!!ing place”? Does not seem to come within that expected response. It is rather alarming to think that we have a politician in high office that believes deep down that people should know their place.
The Police Federation and the Labour opposition are calling for a deeper scrutiny of the matter. It is deeply concerning that 10 Downing Street’s press officeer, when asked by the media what the Mr. Cameron thought of this debacle, the spokesperson replied that the Prime Minister believed Mr. Mitchell’s account. We must be clear about this: Is the Prime Minister saying that two police officers are colluding and lying? This is a serious allegation, albeit an implicit one, but Mr. Cameron must resolve the impression he has left, one way or the other. An even more remarkable fact to bear in mind is that Andrew Mitchell was once part of a UN peacekeeping mission. Maybe he was successful in that role by telling the more aggressive factions of the warring side to know their place and *&%@ $%%!