Well, did he or didn’t he? And more to the point, who gives a ****? News channels, search engines and Twitter were hot this morning with news that Andrew Mitchell would give a statement at 8am. This he duly did, and if ever there was a more boring political intermission my name is PC Pleb.
The grand question of today appears to concern whether or not Mitchell used the word “pleb” in his excoriation of a Downing Street police officer last week. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Matt d’Ancona, among the best connected of professional Westminster-watchers, declared the Tory Chief Whip innocent of the charge.
“Sorry – I don’t buy it”, d’Ancona wrote. “Mitchell has a temper, and has been known to turn a colour that is best described as ‘Tory pink’. But it is not in him to say such a thing. An old-school Conservative he may be, but the school in question is the One Nation Academy, in which courtesy and decency have always been at the core of the curriculum”. In The Independent on Sunday, Joan Smith took the opposing view, declaring “Mitchell should have resigned two days ago”.
Is this what politics in Britain is reduced to? Around the world there is brutal oppression, vast joblessness, plague, famine, war and suffering, and in this sodden country we devote vast acres of newsprint to whether or not an elected official uses patronising language after leaving work. This is pathetic, and perhaps the inevitable consequence of a tired, sterile culture in which common affluence and intellectual docility produces disputes that fundamentally do not matter.
It was particularly dispiriting, when the story broke last week, that senior Labour figures and representatives of the police should be wheeled out to demand that Mitchell be relieved of his duties. Dispiriting – but predictable. In the 24-hr news cycle, and with the incessant data stream of social media now infecting politics, politicians of all persuasions feel the need to capitalise instantly on perceived weaknesses, and so generate heat and drama where there ought to be none.
I have never met, and would not mind never meeting, Andrew Mitchell, who seems to me a foppish fellow with no sense of how absurd that wicker basket on his bicycle looks. Above all, I don’t give two hoots if, after a long day at work, he did or didn’t call a police officer a “pleb”; and I care even less whether he swore by way of preparation.
And it says everything about the otiose, inconsequential, uninspiring and irrelevant status of politics and political commentary in this sliding country that so many people who are paid so well evidently do.