Boris Johnson’s common sense arrest of Andrew Mitchell

It is remarkable that the Andrew Mitchell allegedly swears at police story is still running, he really should have boxed this one off by now. Instead Mitchell’s woes have been compounded as it is revealed that he is clearly not a friend of London Mayor Boris Johnson who claims arresting Mitchell would be ‘common sense’. I suspect Boris feels he has to be consistent having previously argued that anyone who swears at the police should be arrested, but he didn’t have to stick the boot in.

Calls to common sense should generally be resisted. Common sense seems so hard to define because it consists of a set of unarticulated assumptions and prejudices (and we all have these) that have not been properly tested and challenged. The person who relies on common sense is, by definition, unreflective and so likely to get things wrong and to be frequently contradictory. Boris’s common sense idea that we should arrest those who swear at the police is rather silly. The police are employed to deal with the dregs of society in the course of committing crime and so they should expect some foul language (as I’m sure they do) and for that to be the least of their worries. There are also likely to be situations where arresting someone for saying ‘fuck off’ might be disproportionate and often provocative in the context of whatever else might be going on. The police must be trusted to use their best judgement — based on training and experience, rather than common sense — in these situations.

I’ve never thought Andrew Mitchell’s swearing a sacking offence, just something that confirmed he thinks he’s born better than others. But what should trouble David Cameron, is it has exposed Andrew Mitchell’s remarkably poor crisis management ability. Nevertheless, it’s good to see the government’s general incompetence further exposed and the Lib Dem conference overshadowed by nonsense.

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