Why ‘pleb’ actually matters

So the Andrew Mitchell road-show keeps rumbling along with any signs of coming to a resolution and yet the more I read of the political exchanges and media coverage the more it seems to me that those involved in keeping this issue going have lost sight of the central, unresolved, issue.

This is not about privilege. If you can be bothered to do a bit of background reading then you’ll find that there is no consistent position, in either law or practice, on whether or not swearing at police officer amounts to reasonable grounds for an arrest, regardless of the offending party’s station in life. Regardless of what Ed Miliband may or not actually think, at least for the purpose of of a bit of point-scoring at PMQs, there are just too many variables involved in these kind of incidents for anyone to generalise about them.

It also has nothing much to do with Mitchell, or any other Tory ministers, being out of touch with the general public.

Seriously is that even news?

The guy went to Rugby School and Cambridge University, where he was President of Union, while his work experience before parliament consists of a commission in the Royal Tank Regiment and a stint as an investment banker with Lazard. Surely, the suggestion that he might just a bit of touch with the other 99% is much closer to a tautology than it is to an item of news.

What seems to have been lost in all this is what it said in the police log of the incident at the centre of this ongoing farrago, specifically the section that deals directly with Mitchell’s alleged remarks:

There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I can not say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.

I warned Mr MITCHELL that he should not swear, and if he continued to do so I would have no option but to arrest him under the Public Order Act, saying “Please don’t swear at me Sir. If you continue to I will have no option but to arrest you under the public order act”.

Mr MITCHELL was then silent and left saying “you haven’t heard the last of this” as he cycled off.

Mitchell, of course, denies ever using the word ‘pleb’, or rather ‘plebs’, and in sticking to that line he is, by implication, accusing the police officer who filed this report of placing false information into what is an official record of the incident.

It doesn’t matter that Mitchell has apologised to the officer or that the apology has been accepted, what matters is that both cannot right and that, by sticking to denying that he used the word ‘pleb’ Mitchell is, in effect, accusing the officer of falsify their paperwork.

And that, I think you’ll find, is why the Police aren’t letting the matter drop and why the West Midlands Police Federation remains adamant that Mitchell has to go – it’s not the swearing and it not about extracting a bit of payback from a government that cut policing budgets across the board and put serving officers out of a job.

It’s the fact that Mitchell is perceived to have impugned the professional integrity of  a fellow officer in order to save his own skin that grates with the police, and why ‘pleb’ is still such an issue.