So, Friday night I left for an evening out with the Birmingham UN Society for an evening full of good food and intellectual debate in Birmingham city centre, meanwhile, in the capital Andrew Mitchell (a West Midland MP for Sutton Coldfield) had set off the press wires with the announcement of his resignation from the Whips Office… if anything it had been a long time coming.
Andrew Mitchell, formerly responsible for the Department for International Development as Secretary of State between 2010 and the 2012 reshuffle gave in his resignation as a result of an altercation between himself and police officers in downing street where he may or may not have used the words ‘pleb’ or ‘moron’.
Plenty of commentators have rehashed whether he did or didn’t and have continuously chosen to make this a depiction of the conservative party with the usual cliche lines of ‘the nasty party’, they’re out of touch, etc yet this isn’t the lasting effect of this incident. Far more concerning is the precedent this resignation sets for politicians and politics for the future.
Lets first consider the importance of this issue in the scheme of things… the MP spoke out of turn, was rude, perhaps even insolent, arrogant and definitely inappropriate in the way he addressed the police officer. Yet, how many people do this on a daily basis to their friends, family or strangers where they are rude, insolent or fall out and have an argument with someone. Goodness knows how many people have been rude to me when they are doing a job which involves a strong element of customer service! This issue is incredibly unimportant in the scheme of things and definitely not something which means he should lose his job considering the triviality.
So why did he eventually resign? Well, he had support from David Cameron, he even had speeches in support of him at the conservative party meeting (although this may have been orchestrated to some extent). However, there was a concerted effort by the police, especially the Police Federation of England and Wales to publicise this incident to the extent that it was blown far out of proportion, the Chairman of the Federation saying; ‘It is hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office. Mr Mitchell’s half-hearted apology for the comments made whilst leaving Downing Street will do little to build bridges with the police’ politicising the issue and using this as a way to retaliate for the Police’s dissatisfaction with government policy on policing and their treatment in relation to pensions, wages, etc.
In the end this sends a strong and unwanted message to organisations such as Trade Unions that if they escalate a story and keep it in the headlines long enough they could potentially get a member of the government to resign. This should not be welcomed in any way whatsoever, in fact the resignation of Mitchell means that a far more conservative MP; Sir George Young will now become the government Chief Whip.
In fact the whole situation is riddled with Irony… Sir George Young MP currently represents the constituency of North West Hampshire, previously the constituency of Andrew Mitchell’s father… and ultimately the incident has led to a more conservative, less progressive Chief Whip and has significantly damaged the career of someone who has done a lot of good, though this doesn’t excuse his rudeness and attitude in the incident at hand. In many respects this incident reminds me of the #BigotGate incident with Gordon Brown at the last election.
However, what has happened is done, so what is the point of rehashing this incident….? In my opinion we need to learn to accept that politicians make mistakes and they are only human. Yes, they are public servants and in the public eye and are accountable to the electorate [or should be at any rate]. However, this doesn’t mean that they should resign at any point where they have made a mistake, or that the continued press coverage of an incident which is embarrassing for a minister or MP should cause the resignation of the politician. We expect politicians to operate at a standard of ethics and morality far above the level we judge ourselves against… there is no way that people can say they never make a mistake, act inappropriately at one time or even get angry… and that’s before we consider the stress, workload and pressure we expect our politicians to operate under. We pretty much expect the impossible and it’s almost miraculous that so many MPs are able to juggle all their commitments, roles and responsibilities and still have relationships, families or even contact with the world at large!!
Lets change our expectations of politicians to become more realistic before it’s too late and we end up with people who are entirely out of touch with reality. We want more normal people in politics and this means accepting that they can make mistakes… these politicians at the moment are some of the strongest intellects in the country (though not all of them are I hasten to add) and if we get more normal people into politics with a greater cross section of society they wouldn’t last two minutes with the expectations we have to judge them against.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts… please do comment below…