Yesterday’s Guardian report of Plebgate hinted at the true significance of the story with its headline (“Plebgate rift opens between Tory party and Met police”) but failed to explore this angle further.
The thing that will have lasting significance is not what Andrew Mitchell did or did not say. It is that the Conservative Party has been wounded by the Police Federation’s ham-fisted lobbying campaign and will seek revenge.
Hell hath no fury like a Tory scorned. In 1974, the coal miners brought down Ted Heath’s Tory government. A decade later, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government destroyed the British coal industry.
This time, the Tories will not destroy the police but they are likely to pursue Tom Winsor’s proposed reforms with renewed vigour. These proposals are what the dispute between the Tories and the Police Federation is really about, since they will have a radical effect on police pay, pensions and working conditions. The government put down a marker several months before Plebgate by making Winsor HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the first person from outside the police ever to be appointed to the job. Early next year, the Home Secretary will decide whether to implement the Winsor report’s proposals.
It helps to know that the upper classes have never liked the police because there is no officer class like there is in the military. Every police officer has to work his way up from the bottom, so ex-public school boys rarely join the police. One of Winsor’s key recommendations is that there should be direct entry into more senior ranks, which would create a de facto officer class. The Tories will not be satisfied until ‘people like us’ are running the show.