Andrew Mitchell’s comments may be idiotic but the Police Federation and Police Superintendents’ Association are betraying a principle they claim to defend.

I have no intention of defending moronic outbursts from grumpy politicians. Whatever he actually said, he is guilty of being grossly rude, disrespectful and displaying a chronic lack of judgement. Had he said it to any member of the public, of any profession, it would be just as inexcusable.

The police involved appear to have acted with impeccable professionalism during the episode. How the reports ended up in the papers is less clear. Journalists are paid to sniff these things out but they cannot steal a policeman’s notebook. We can accept these things might happen.

So far, so good for a story of bad politicians and sharp journalism.

But when, precisely, did it become the job of the Police Federation or the Police Superintendents’ Association to decide who is Chief Whip? By all means stand up for your officers but keep out of the politics.

I spend much of my time defending myself against the accusation – often from officers or their retired comrades – that Police and Crime Commissioners will politicise the police.

That is a serious allegation. We have centuries of proud tradition behind British policing, not least that we should keep politics out of the police. I take that very seriously.

This episode shows, sadly, just how much politics is already in the police. Their representatives are betraying the tradition of British policing and the interests of their members.

They are allowing their, in some cases understandable, frustration with reforms to spill over into a deeply unprofessional vendetta. Down that road, everyone loses – public, police and politicians.

The policewomen and men I meet want to fight crime, not to become pawns in a political scrap. In the long run, no one will thank police representatives for misunderstanding that. Time to get police tanks off the Downing Street lawn.


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