Not once, not twice, but three times in Parliament today home secretary Theresa May was offered the chance and repeatedly declined to condemn disgraced Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell.
She was asked first by Barbara Keeley MP:
“Does the home secretary agree that it does not empower the police when a cabinet minister rants at them and swears at them?”
“That particular point was answered earlier but I reiterate, I reiterate in terms of the incident that she has referred to, the chief whip apologised to the police officer concerned, the police officer accepted that apology, the police are not taking the matter any further, and that, as my Right Honourable friend said earlier, is an end to it.”
Then, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said:
“The home secretary told the Police Federation last year:
“It’s easy to sit around with friends, or, dare I say it, in the House of Commons, and criticise the police, but those people aren’t the ones confronting violent thugs.”
“She also told them:
“You put up with abuse and worse and you do so to keep us free, you do an amazing job and it’s time we gave you all the respect you deserve.”
“I agree with her, so will she join with me in this House and condemn the chief whip for swearing at police officers?”
“I’ve already answered that particular issue, I am happy to stand here and reiterate what I and others have said on a number of occasions, I believe we do have the best police officers in the world, this government is giving them our support, we are ensuring that we are giving them the tools to do the job that they and the public want them to do.”
And pressed once more by Cooper:
“But the home secretary still hasn’t condemned the chief whip for what he did, and for the swearing, something people across the country are arrested for, and the reason it matters that there’s been no investigation, that he hasn’t come clean, is because people think this goes to the heart of the government’s attitude to the police and public servants, once again they’re not listening to the police on the European Arrest Warrant, they’re not listening to the police on CCTV, they’re not listening to the police on DNA, and they’re not listening to the police on 15,000 police cuts.
“So if she really wants to put an end to this and show respect for the police why doesn’t she change the chief whip and change her policies on policing too.”
“I was asked about the chief whip earlier, I answered the question, the Right Honourable Lady really should listen to the answers that are given to the questions.”
Such arrogance, such blind defence of the indefensible, essentially saying ‘the police are lying and that is the end of it’ – bad enough coming from Mitchell’s defenders in the right-wing blogs, but from the home secretary??
For Mitchell, meanwhile, he may yet be forced onto his kukri and “resigned” before PMQs this Wednesday, facing a humiliating Commons vote tomorrow which could see his wages being docked by £1,000 – the sum he’d have been fined at a Magistrates Court if he’d been prosecuted for swearing like any ordinary member of the public would have been.
A simple, profound, genuine apology may have sufficed a month ago; now, his authority shot, his indiscretions dogging his fellow ministers’ every Q&A, it’s surely now a question of when, and not if, he’s finally despatched to spend more time with his bicycle.