Gategate: A Downing Street tale

Laurence Inman recalls his very own ‘Gategate’ experience…

Time for democracyI too have had my moment at the gates of Downing Street, my Gatesgate.

First we must go back more than forty-five years, to the spring of 1967. I was in London. I had been dropped, by someone who had given me a lift, near Hyde Park Corner. At two in the morning. What to do ? I just started walking around until things came back to life.

Belgravia. Pimlico. Down to the river. Around seven I was crossing Westminster Bridge. A big policeman was walking towards me. He didn’t say a word. Then I was walking down Whitehall and came across Downing Street. ‘So this is where it is,’ I thought. There seemed nothing to stop me, so I turned into it, on the side opposite Number Ten.

This was quite early in the morning, and I was carrying a haversack. Two young coppers were on the important side, walking towards Whitehall, laughing and joking.

They didn’t even glance in my direction!

I skipped down the steps at the end and into Horse Guards.

Come forward forty years or more and once again I am passing Downing Street, this time walking towards Parliament Square on my way to Waterloo Station. There is the usual press of tourists trying to peer through the gates. I joined them. I’ll never know why. ‘You used to be able to walk right through there,’ I said. One of the coppers smiled. I said to him, very politely, ‘Do you know when these gates were put up ?’

‘No, but I know somebody who does.’

He went off to a sort of hut to consult a colleague.

So now it was all becoming a bit of a production.

‘1988,’ he said on his return.

‘You used to be able to walk right through there!’

Was there something in the tone or volume of my reply which made him change his attitude ? Had my facial expression altered in some way, making it seem that I blamed him personally for this unendurable restraint on my movements ?

He put on that blank copper-face. You know the one.

‘Times change,’ he said to someone a mile away over my right shoulder.

He thought I was just another blethering old nutter. But I couldn’t just turn and walk away, not me, oh no! I had to fall in with the role he’d given me, didn’t I ? I had to give myself a memory which will stab me every day for the rest of my life.

‘Yeah! Mr Wilson!’ I said, and crawled off to get my train.