Andrew Mitchell had form: The pattern of abuse heard in the High Court was shocking

If Mitchell's outburst at PC Rowland had been a one-off, it might have been forgivable

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It is fitting that Andrew Mitchell's undoing came on a bike, the sometime symbol of the modernisation of David Cameron's Conservative Party.

Mitchell didn't have to ride his bike through Downing Street to and from his office of Chief Whip. But he was one of the earliest Tory MPs to jump in the saddle – he rode a bike long before Cameron rode his shiny Scott model to the House of Commons as a young rising star of the Conservative Party. For Mitchell, cycling to work was no show of shiny Cameroonism, it was just what he did.

And so it was with international development, the one area which might offer him a future career. Mitchell was appointed shadow international development secretary by Michael Howard after the 2005 election – six months before Cameron became leader. Mitchell believed in international aid and how it can transform communities, no matter how unfashionable this was for traditional Tories. It was Mitchell who set up the Conservatives' social action project in Rwanda, Project Umubano, in 2007.

Visiting Rwanda in July 2007 with Mitchell and Cameron – who was enduring a leadership crisis back home – I watched the MP for Sutton Coldfield over several days, helping build shelves for a new school and organising volunteers. A forceful personality, yes, but he was genuine about the project. It was little surprise, then, that Bob Geldof supported him during his libel trial against The Sun, with the Band Aid founder describing himself as a "pleb" but insisting that Mitchell would never use that word.

That was part of the problem. Mitchell is one of those people, like Damian McBride, Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown, who inspires both loyalty and loathing. As with the three Labour opinion-dividers, Mitchell was charming to those he regarded as allies – including rock stars and journalists – but, as the High Court heard, arrogant and condescending to others.

I was always in two minds as the plebgate affair evolved: I thought The Sun's story was one of genuine public interest, a cracker of a tale, but the way the Police Federation ramped up the campaign against Mitchell was deeply troubling and it seemed unfair that he should lose his Cabinet post over a loss of temper. As PC Ian Richardson, who was on duty that night, said on Friday, who hasn't lost their sense of humour at work? Indeed, we've all been there.

 

However, if Mitchell's outburst at PC Rowland had been a one-off, it might have been forgivable. Yet the pattern of abuse by Mitchell that the High Court was told about was shocking. This allegedly included verbal assaults on members of his protection team while in some of the world's most dangerous places. In August 2011, the court heard, while in Tunisia, when the minister was told by Inspector Duncan Johnston, in charge of the team deployed to protect Mitchell, he couldn't cross into Libya because it would breach international law, the MP replied that this was "a bit above your pay grade, Mr Plod". There was allegedly another such outburst at his close protection squad surrounding a visit to Kenya.

On a visit to Kabul with then foreign secretary Jack Straw in February 2002, I was in convoy behind Straw's car at 2am when our driver spotted an Afghan sniper at the side of the road. The Taliban had, at the time, been driven out of Kabul so we were all on the same side as this gunman, supposedly. But as the Afghan transport minister had been hacked to death in the capital hours earlier, everyone was jumpy. The officer in our jeep shouted at me and two other journalists to get on the floor, which we did, while he stayed upright, gun in hand, until we were driven to (relative) safety.

I will never forget that moment. From the plain clothes officers who walk next to the Prime Minister as he steps off a helicopter in Afghanistan to the PCs on a shift at the gates of the House of Commons and Downing Street, these are individuals standing in between a terrorist and a politician, putting their lives on the line to protect their man or woman. They deserve our respect and admiration, not a torrent of abuse.

 

Clegg takes my advice

A few months ago I asked on Twitter why Nick Clegg was remaining by the Prime Minister's side during PMQs and not getting out meeting voters as the election draws nearer. The Deputy PM has not been able to ask a question at the weekly joust since 2010, which worked fine at the start of the Parliament but has seemed less and less worthwhile the closer to May 2015 we get. Of course, Clegg speaks to voters every Thursday on his LBC phone-in, but for the past two weeks he has left Cameron's side – first to campaign in south London and next to highlight creative town planning in Berlin. "Nick is getting out and about much more now," an aide tells me. With the Lib Dems struggling in the polls among even their core voters, it seems wise to put physical distance between him and the PM.

From America, with love

If you're dismayed by the mass consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is another import from the United States that might cheer you up: Britain's first Giving Tuesday takes place this week, when individuals and businesses are encouraged to donate to charity or volunteer. This started in the US and Nick Hurd, when he was minister for civil society, was instrumental in bringing it over here. His successor Rob Wilson tells me that more than 700 charities and businesses have signed up. Charities and supporters will post #unselfie pictures on Twitter under the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

Portrait of a nation in panic

I went to see the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery last week (he was no oil painting, was he?). Even though we had tickets, we still had to queue to get in. I overheard an altercation between two women and an eastern European member of staff who was telling them, in perfect English, that they could not barge to the front. As they huffed off, one of the women said: "The problem with this place is that no one speaks English!" This panic about "hidden migrants" is getting out of control. "You do know Rembrandt was Dutch don't you?" is what I should have shouted after them.

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