When the Plebgate story broke, cyclists were staunch. Though it's neither big nor clever to swear at the police, a cyclist's right of way had been unreasonably impeded.
According to the law books, there is a right for all Her Majesty’s subjects at all seasons of the year freely and at their will to pass and repass the public highway without any let and hindrance. (Read the rest for how the police have taken control of access to Downing Street).
Everyone was partisan about Plebgate. As one of Radio 4's misnamed comedians said on last night's News Quiz, it was a hard choice between the Tory toff, and the Sun and the Met.
Chris Mullin (ex Labour minister) had thought it was a fit up by the Police Federation.
Describing his own run-in with the Federation, which, he said, had sought to have him removed as chairman of the Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee when he raised questions about the probity of the police disciplinary system, he said: "The Federation is a bully.
It has a long track record of intimidating ministers, journalists and anyone else who gets in its way. It also has a track record of defending the indefensible.
One of the policemen standing at the gate agreed.
Ian Richardson said the initial confrontation after Mitchell tried to leave Downing Street on his bicycle was a “nonsense incident” that spiralled out of control, in part propelled by the political aims of the Police Federation.
If senior officers had read his notes from the evening, Richardson said, it might have saved a lot of trouble: “I think it could have been put into perspective. It could have been said that it was a minor incident that’s been leaked to the newspapers, and let’s move on. But, of course, we didn’t move on, and we ended up at the high court last week and this week. It’s a great shame. And at what cost to so many people.”
“Nonsense incident” meets the case.
After a sequence of events of apology and investigation, suing and counter-suing. Andrew Mitchell ended up in the libel court, and what it hinged upon was whether he used the word “pleb” or not.
I was convinced in a comments thread that a toff however annoyed would not use “the archaic, pantomime word "pleb"...As soon as I read that I knew there was something wrong...it sounded exactly like somebody's caricature fantasy about what an angry toff would say to some innocent constable, and not at all what such a toff would be likely to say, even if intending great rudeness... “
However, the High Court judge presiding over the libel case stated:-
For the reasons given, I’m satisfied, at least on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Mitchell did speak the words attributed to him, or so close to them as to amount to the same, the politically toxic word pleb.
on the grounds that the policeman was too thick to make it up.
Weighing up the competing claims, the judge said PC Rowland was "not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent on the spur of the moment an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper".
Of course some will always take the chance to poke at cyclists:-
In another interview on Today a former Tory MP, Michael Brown, said Mitchell would not have got into trouble if he had been using a ministerial car rather than a bicycle.
“The reason that cabinet ministers and junior ministers were given ministerial cars by Harold Macmillan was so that they didn’t get into this kind of mess,” he said. “My main criticism of Andrew Mitchell is that all this Cameroon bicycling nonsense is what got him into trouble. Ministerial cars are for ministers to be protected from this kind of rubbish.”
In countries with civilised urban transport politicians do get about on bicycles.
Danish politicians on ceremonial visit to the Queen of Denmark
Or demonstrate the media grabbing at trivia to make an easy story to get the comments boxes and social media boiling. All of those incidents could have been/should have been settled with a quick apology. All can be commented on from the top of the stupidest head. At a time with two forms of destructive nationalism on the up in Britain and parties competing to out-anti-immigrant each other, we could do with less of this nonsense.
*(Conspiracy theory – all involving transport.... must join up somewhere..)