Plebgate: The lesson we can all learn from Andrew Mitchell's demise


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The Independent Online

Like a previous Conservative cabinet minister, Andrew Mitchell sought to deploy the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play against the British media, and he lost. The judge in Mr Mitchell’s libel case was clear that he had indeed used the much-disputed and endlessly discussed term “pleb”. Thus has “Plebgate” been settled.

In truth, no one emerges with great credit from this curious episode. Mr Mitchell, the bicycling Chief Whip with a quick temper, has lost his job in government and will not now regain it. He may lose his Commons seat, one way or another.

It is a shame, because he was a committed International Development Secretary, and retains a keen interest in the welfare of those in the poorest places on earth.

His fate proves that, were it ever an acceptable way to behave, such arrogance is not to be tolerated in modern Britain, and, as with  David Mellor’s taxi ride, ubiquitous CCTV and recording devices make tantrums by the rich and powerful more hazardous.

In its way the denouement to Plegbate is a refreshingly egalitarian moment, a sort of last rite for a mostly already vanished national habit of deference. Yet the police should not regard the judgment as some sort of unalloyed triumph. Though PC Toby Rowland – the officer at the centre of Mr Mitchell’s suit – was described by the judge as lacking the imagination to concoct a conspiracy, and his respectability and his innocence were commended, it remains true that elements of the force behaved far less admirably during this saga.

Such a silly row should have been settled quietly and privately. Exaggeration, hype and hysteria were lavished on a bit of bad language at the gates of Downing Street; a moral panic made of really very little. If it proves one useful thing, it is the old adage that you should always try to be nice to people when you are on the way up….