DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Shadow of fear over public’s right to know
23:27 GMT, 17 December 2012
'Plebgate': An officer has been arrested for allegedly leaking details of Mitchell's outburst to the Press
In a chilling foretaste of a clampdown on the public’s right to know, a diplomatic protection officer is arrested on suspicion of leaking details of Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’ row to the Press.
This paper takes no sides in the dispute over what the former Tory Chief Whip said to police when they refused to open the main gates of Downing Street to allow him to ride through on his bicycle.
All we know is that the incident, in which Mr Mitchell belatedly admitted swearing at officers (though he denies calling them ‘plebs’), was deemed serious enough to cost him his Government job.
Whatever the truth, it was clearly of great public interest that a senior minister stood accused, in an official police log, of behaving in an arrogant and foul-mouthed manner towards officers.
Yet the unmistakable message sent out by Saturday’s arrest is that the public ought to have been kept in ignorance of Mr Mitchell’s tirade – no matter how much it may have revealed about his character or fitness for office.
There is no suggestion that the arrested officer asked for or received money for the information he is accused of leaking.
Indeed, with no element of corruption, it should be unthinkable for anyone to face the heavy-handed treatment of arrest for making such an incident public.
Emboldened by the Leveson Inquiry, however, the authorities are casting a shadow of fear over whistleblowers.
But without them, how will the public learn about the misdeeds of politicians and officials
Only last week, government aides issued veiled threats of statutory Press regulation if the Daily Telegraph went ahead with publishing evidence of a minister’s misuse of expenses.
The state should remember that its employees are paid by taxpayers who have a right to know if they misbehave.
How can democracy flourish, in this poisoned atmosphere, if voters are denied the facts on which to form a judgment
How to beat UKIP
There was a time when the Tories could dismiss UKIP as a single-issue protest group, whose support in the European elections would melt away when it came to the real thing at home.
That time has passed.
For after a string of recent polls
putting the party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, an in-depth survey of
more than 20,000 voters’ concerns shows just how potent a threat it has
become to the Conservatives on their own traditional ground.
Threat: UKIP are no longer a single-issue protest group
Worryingly for David Cameron, the research by former Tory vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft shows 12 per cent of those who backed his party last time would switch to UKIP in an election tomorrow.
Of these, significantly, only a quarter listed Britain’s relationship with Europe among their top three issues – after immigration, welfare and the deficit.
Indeed, the finding suggests UKIP has substantially broadened its support, threatening to split the Tory vote in 2015.
Add the Conservatives’ failure to secure constituency boundary changes and the mass defection of Lib Dems to Labour, and we could be witnessing a dramatic change in the political landscape that would leave the Tories in the wilderness.
But there is hope for Mr Cameron. For the poll suggests most would-be defectors will return if the Tories deliver on those three core issues – with others following if he secures a favourable deal on the EU.
True, this will mean ignoring Nick Clegg’s attempts at obstruction. But the Mail believes the Prime Minister has the right instincts. If he can match them with the right determination, he may yet win.
As Lord Ashcroft’s research suggests, UKIP says ‘things that need to be said but others are scared to say’.
The Tories must find their courage.