An insight by James Murphy
What a difference a year makes. One year ago, the then Conservative whip and International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, was subject to a most demoralising debacle. He was falsely accused of calling Police guards at Downing Street ‘a bunch of f###ing plebs’. It was like the 21st century’s answer to the Dreyfus Affair.
Had this been the days of the new labour press machine rather than a confused coalition, the non story would have been shot down and spun away within hours. Instead, a firestorm erupted and Mr. Mitchell was immediately subject to trial by media and thereby found guilty within a matter of a weekend’s headlines.
I had met him a year previously, in the context of a local debating contest, which he supported in his capacity as a champion of young people with an interest in politics. I was impressed by his presentation and pleasant though precise and professional manner and by his fast and accurate advice. And so, last year, I arranged another appointment with Mr. Mitchell. He had been cast into the political wilderness and his constituency offices plagued by a press invasion but remained calm and considerate.
It was clear that Mitchell was simply not capable of denouncing Police officers or anyone, for that matter, as ‘plebs’. I could imagine his old Cambridge graduate/ Army officer style rearing its head and perhaps being clipped in manner while racing from one meeting to another (dropping an ‘f bomb’ under his breath in exasperation?). But there is a world of difference between that and the false accusations with which he was faced.
Remembering that he had once helped me, I wished to return the gesture and proposed the penning of a piece on his constituency work: perhaps the first stage in a fight-back against those who so ruthlessly masterminded his downfall. He was very clear in his guidance. An article about ‘my good work from the back-benches’ simply would not help anyone.
Mr. Mitchell loves his work in Sutton Coldfield, but feared any attempt at spinning a piece from that premise would divert from rather than enhance his field work with constituents. It was simply a question of waiting, patiently. His patient persistence has been rewarded and vindication delivered.
Following a Home Affairs select committee hearing, Sir Hugh Orde, (head of the Association of Chief Police Officers) demanded an apology to Mr. Mitchell from three senior Police Officers whose accounts of a meeting with the MP last year have now been exposed as misleading. And with the publication of relevant reports and recommendations, this should be the beginning of a ‘comeback’ for Andrew Mitchell.
I met him again last Friday in his constituency offices. The location is unassuming but the small team are personable and pleasant. It’s a shame that they too were sucked into last year’s overnight hysteria and that the machine of mass media never considered how their lives (as well as those of Mr. Mitchell and his family) would be impacted. But there is also a sense of relief that an end is now in sight with possible ‘closure’ to the whole affair.
Mr. Mitchell is his usual self: fountain pen and military precision present and correct and his advice as an MP is measured and encouraging. The phones are buzzing and it is clear that new developments are imminent. He is careful to avoid commenting directly, but grateful for my support. A particular man, his courteous, uncompromising manner and traditional method would not be to everyone’s tastes in an era of estuary English, where the likes of Russell Brand now seem to serve as political gurus to the media.
Mitchell is not a man of the modern mawkish zeitgeist and he was perhaps not keen on the game of media management, unavoidable in the days of rolling news networks, where careers and ambitions are destroyed with one update. I suspect that he had enemies in both the press and in politics.
There should have been an immediate and concerted closing of ranks and official position, with related statements released once the accusations were made last year. There should have been a forensic examination of evidence far sooner, too and spearheaded publically by a QC. Lessons have been learned, I trust?
But Andrew Mitchell is undoubtedly a man of probity and purpose; of dedication to his constituents and with concrete political insight to international development (I recently read a paper he wrote on the need for continued investment abroad: it changed my sceptical outlook).
This is a man of firm convictions and singular vision. He models compassionate conservatism and would be a great asset to the Cabinet, should the Prime Minister restore Mr. Mitchell to power. It is those qualities which can now be recognised again: a timely and telling contrast in the week that also saw new revelations in the press’ phone hacking scandal. I wish Andrew Mitchell every success in the next phase of his career, wherever it may take him.
Justice has been done, and not before time.