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Andrew Mitchell may be a bruiser but let's not forget that the Police Federation has an agenda

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday David Cameron went to Manchester to pay tribute to the two women police officers murdered in the line of duty (here's a video). He was as statesmanlike as in his recent Commons statement about police corruption at the time of the Hillsborough tragedy. Today the Chairman of the Police Federation criticises David Cameron for using "hollow words". Because, says Mr Tully, the PM has made "a vitriolic attack on police pay and conditions and pensions" he apparently has no authority to pay tribute to PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone. Here's the BBC report. I can only wonder what Mr Tully would have said if the PM had failed to pay any tribute to his fallen colleagues? Sometimes a politician just can't win.

We know that tempers in the Police Federation are running high. Not so long ago they heckled Theresa May when she told them that police officers would have to bear their share of the age of austerity. At the time The Sun called the Federation "rude". The Telegraph called it "militant". The Express called it a "pantomime". The quotes are collected here. Mr Tully's latest behaviour only confirms the growing sense that the Police Federation is led by people of little judgment.

The row over the Manchester police deaths coincides with the argument over what Andrew Mitchell said or didn't say to the police officers who prevented him cycling out of the Downing Street gate, something he is normally permitted to do. It's clear that Mr Mitchell didn't treat the officers with full respect. He's admitted that himself and has apologised publicly and personally. The row is damaging to the Conservative Party, being used by Labour to reinforce the idea of a condescending, Toffish Tory leadership.

Did Mr Mitchell use the words attributed to him and now being heavily pushed by the Police Federation? None of us can know. The fact that he's apologised seems adequate to me but it won't stop newspapers calling for his scalp. The same newspapers who believed the gossip that David Cameron had told Caroline Spelman that she was too old to stay in the Cabinet and had been knocking back wine while sacking Cheryl Gillan will not believe a politician's words and neither, sadly, will the public.

Andrew Mitchell is a man with a direct style. He's a bruiser who sometimes winds people up the wrong way. I predict a lot of stories in tomorrow's papers from those who've been on the wrong side of his tongue. I can only report my own experience of him. I travelled with him to Ethiopia last year and was in constant contact with him during his time as Development Secretary. He was pretty brutal to me at times but it was always because he cared about the substance of our discussions. I think he'll make a good Chief Whip. He's already reorganising the Whips Office so that the Whips choose MPs they have a relationship with rather than MPs from a region or cohort. That's sensible. One rebellious Tory MP told me that they had already sat down with Mr Mitchell and discussed a new working relationship. The discussion I'm told was frank and grown up. The MP said they had felt respected for the first time that they'd entered parliament. Another MP says that they expected Mr Mitchell to be as candid with the PM as he is with MPs. We have a Chief Whip who won't be a one way messenger from Downing Street to the parliamentary party but will send messages back the other way too. It might just be best, however, if Mr Mitchell uses the side gate at Downing Street when he's delivering those messages.


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