Giles Marshall 11.11am
Andrew Mitchell is an arrogant fool who should have kept his mouth shut, adopted a bit of humility and did what he was told when he left Downing Street on Wednesday night.
He might thus have saved himself and the Government a good deal of trouble, but the fuss over his alleged outburst is indicative of much deeper and more serious problems.
First, there has been an extraordinary sea change – yet to be fully remarked on I think – between the Tories and the police force. From the time of the Bobbies’ formation by the Tory Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, there has been an almost symbiotic relationship between the police and the Conservative party. It reached its apogee under Margaret Thatcher, but in the mere two years of the Coalition government it seems to have all but collapsed.
Theresa May was booed at the Police Federation conference, and the Met’s Police Federation Chairman, John Tully, has lately wasted no time in taking every media opportunity possible to condemn Mr Mitchell.
Now Mr Tully is an intensely political individual. The issue at stake is not so much to do with the way in which policing is conducted. It is far more to do with perceived threats to police pay and conditions. Yet whatever the cause, the Conservative party has opened up a front in their war on public servants that even their most pugilistic leader in days past never dared to.
And the police are only the start of the problem. All over the public sector, the Government is now regarded with little other than suspicion and even loathing. Mr Cameron’s fine words about school sports during the Olympics were – for teachers – hollow sentiments expressed by a man who had presided over the denuding of school sport with such apparent complacency. Meanwhile, Mr Hunt is going to have to bind himself closer to health service professionals than he was even to the Murdochs if he is to have any chance of winning some of them over.
The “public school snob” is the unwelcome description being ascribed to Andrew Mitchell, and there is a real danger for the Government that this becomes more generally applied to them all.
Despite the fact that Michael Gove, for instance, was educated in the state comprehensive sector, or that Mr Cameron himself relied enormously on the NHS during the years of his first son’s health difficulties, the perception persists that this is a team of ministers that sees public services as being only for the poor and non-coping.
It is a disastrous perception. It widens the gap between the governors and the governed to an unacceptable level. Mr Mitchell’s outburst, meanwhile, suggests a sense of entitlement and superiority hardly merited by actions.
Mr Mitchell has made a further statement this morning, which has hardly closed the lid on the matter. Yet I believe that this furore will subside soon enough, with or without his resignation.
What is less likely to go away is the lack of empathy between Mr Cameron’s Government and the people. The recent reshuffle was more ‘lurching to the right’ than appealing to a centrist majority. If he wants to have any chance of recovering the political narrative and being re-elected in 2015, he should return to the modernising roots that served him so well in opposition, and hang the rightists. Battles with his own right-wingers are infinitely preferable to battles with the wider British public.
Giles is a teacher and a former chairman of the TRG. Follow him on Twitter @gilesmarshall