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The Sketch: OK, OK... it's unacceptable to beat women with a baton

  • @SimonSketch

It's said to be a victory for Parliament. The Home Affairs Select Committee put enough pressure on the Home Office to be allowed to interview Jacqui Smith's "preferred candidate" 24 hours before he is appointed HM's Inspector of Constabulary. Such is the status of the House of Commons today.

Denis O'Connor looks like a perfectly pleasant fellow. He's clean. He is agreeable. He said that it was "unacceptable" to beat a demonstrating woman with a baton. The committee liked that, and repeated it more than once (he flinched slightly as they did).

David Winnick asked him what aspects of the policing had been out of line, and Mr O'Connor hesitated and said: "When they break with their colleagues and assault people." As the questioning went on he said seeing it had made him feel "uncomfortable" and then "very uncomfortable". That seemed a bit mellow to some of us. Then he upped the stakes and said, in fact, he'd felt "concerned". But was it incompatible with British policing, Winnick went on? "It didn't impress me in any way," the preferred candidate said. That would make the Territorial Support Group sit up and take dictation, but only if he'd looked like Henry VIII. Finally, he settled his chin into his cradling fingers. "It was unacceptable."

But then, individual behaviour wasn't his remit. And he hadn't seen all the evidence. He wasn't going to make a judgement on a snapshot but on the whole album. And "the object of an inquiry is to unpick all this, to see whether the tactics used were..." Past a certain point it all blends in with the wallpaper.

He was livelier on the need for officers to wear their identifying police numbers. But he revealed the numbers were attached by velcro. So forget any disciplinary action on that score. "It must have got ripped off by anarchists," they'll all say.

No one asked about balaclava wearing. David TC Davis (comic Tory, looks like Olly in The Thick of It) revealed he had been policing the event in his role as special constable, and that "pushing people" was allowable, indeed recommended. The Tory Malcolm Tucker would have had facial veins standing out like earthworms listening to PC TC.

Patrick Mercer asked Mr O'Connor if he'd be "a fierce advocate and explicit guarantor of the public interest". His reply: "We've been quite good in our own way as a guarantor of professional standards."

These professional professionals are killing public life. They come up through their machines speaking their administrative Mandarin unable to reach the people they've left behind. Police, politicians, public servants everywhere, with their courses, qualifications and careful answers. It makes us remember the point of John Prescott.