Wednesday 26 September 2012

A thought experiment for plebs

Here's a little thought experiment for plebs like me and you.

Imagine you want to go through a vehicle gate with your cycle but two police officers have been instructed to not let people through. Instead of calmly finding another route or even politely asking if you could speak to their supervisor to clarify the situation, you launch into a foul mouthed, obscenity laden tirade at the police, threaten to use your influence to have them sacked and accuse them of being inferior in a particularly impolite manner.

You wouldn't be surprised to find yourself face down on the pavement with the aforementioned police officers kneeling on your back, reading you your rights and arresting you under the provisions of the 1986 Public Order Act or some such legislation.

This is exactly the kind of confrontation that happened between the Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell and two police officers that wouldn't let him through the vehicle access gate of Downing Street because he was on a bicycle. Mitchell was reported as saying:
"I'll have your fucking job for this." "Best you learn your fucking place." "Morons!" "You don't run this fucking government. You're fucking plebs."              
(Official transcript as reported by the Telegraph)
This confrontation has since been deemed "Pleb-gate" by the mainstream media, as is their way, adding the "-gate" suffix to any political scandal, no matter how trivial or unrelated to the original Watergate scandal. An annoying linguistic device that would retrospectively render the original Watergate scandal, "Watergate-gate". I actually think the press missed a great opportunity when they decided on "Pleb-gate", after all this incident was the ideal opportunity for the press to discuss the first ever "Gate-gate".

When asked about whether he used the word "plebs" in his angry tirade against the police officers, Mitchell came out with this particularly evasive response: "I am very clear about what I said and what I didn't say. I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not use the words that have been attributed to me." Either he did use the words attributed to him and he is lying or he didn't and the police officers are lying in their official report on the incident. Whichever way, somebody probably deserves to lose their job. Either the policemen falsified their notebooks, (extreme misconduct, especially in the wake of the revelation of falsified police testimonies about the Hillsbrough disaster) or Mitchell is lying through his teeth in a desperate attempt to save his political career.

Mitchell won't be forgetting Gate-gate in a hurry, thanks
to countless images and commentaries like this.
In my opinion the "you should know your place" and "I'll have your job" comments are far worse than Mitchell's arrogant and elitist use of the word "pleb" as a pejorative. It is no surprise at all that the Tory Chief Whip is a bully, after all, his job as Chief Whip is to bully rebellious Tory MPs into following the party line. The only surprising thing about his arrogant and elitist comments during this "Gate-gate" confrontation is that he allowed the Tory mask to slip so badly. It is obvious that this kind of superior attitude is rife amongst the toffs that run the Tory party, given their utter contempt for the suffering of ordinary people under their socially and economically destructive austerity agenda, however they are normally well practiced in masking their elitist attitudes in public.

Returning to the thought experiment for a moment: It is telling that had the person verbally abusing the police officers for simply doing their jobs been a "pleb" like you or me, the condemnation from the Tory ranks would have been universal. However in an attempt to protect one of their own, Tory and Lib-Dem politicians have been wheeling out the pitiful excuses. "He was tired", "he'd had a long and difficult day", "he challenges the way in which some words have been attributed to him" were amongst the feeblest of the excuses. Yet David Mellor went further and aired his absurd conspiracy theory that the police officers had invented the "pleb" comment in order to try and bring down the Tory government, an absurd accusation from a man that was part of the Thatcher government that used the police force so effectively as their own right-wing enforcement militia against the miners. Then colluded with them to cover up the culpability for the Hillsbrough disaster by smearing Liverpool supporters as drunken hooligans and attempting to besmirch the characters of the 96 deceased football fans by conducting alcohol tests on their corpses.

At your subsequent court appearance for breech of the peace and/or harassment, we know your word against the policemen's over exactly what was said would count for precisely fuck all in the eyes of the judge and jury, because we all know that police don't lie (unless they are making up insults to discredit their "social superiors" of course). Do you believe that you would be found innocent if your lawyer tried to mitigate by claiming "my client had had a long and difficult day"? I imagine that if you were lucky enough to get a fairly liberal judge (jury trials for offences like these having been abolished by Neo-Labour years ago), he might leniently give you community service and a suspended sentence, but you'd still be found guilty without a doubt. On the other hand, the chances of an establishment figure like Mitchell being found guilty are slim indeed.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the "Gate-gate" incident is the irony of Mitchell's parting shot at the police he had been insulting: "You haven't heard the last of this!" He called back as he cycled away.

The unintentional foresight of Mitchell's parting shot is glorious. Instead of being able to use his insider connections to have the police officers severely punished as he was insinuating, Mitchell has found himself at the centre of a huge political storm, with people from across the political spectrum (including "liberal lefties" like me) siding with the police, (an almost inconceivable thought given that "Gate-gate" happened just days after the truth about the 23 years of Hillsbrough lies had come out). There have been widespread calls for Mitchell to resign or to be sacked. Even if he survives this political shit-storm, his political standing and media profile has been permanently tarnished. It is hard to imagine a newspaper column or blog post being written about Mitchell anytime soon that doesn't bring up the word "pleb". 

The particular policemen involved in this incident certainly hadn't "heard the last of it" in fact they will probably remember the incident for years to come; the story of how they became front-page news for simply doing their jobs could perhaps make a great story for their grand-kids. However Mitchell will not be allowed to forget the day he let his bullying, superiority complex slip out. He "hadn't heard the last of it" either, in fact he'll certainly live to regret his arrogant display of obnoxious Tory elitism for the rest of his political career.

UPDATE: After 4 weeks of desperately hanging on to his position as chief whip, Mitchell eventually resigned.


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