MY favourite moment so far in “Gategate” – a brilliantly ludicrous name for a brilliantly ludicrous furore – was the Classics professor who told Radio 4 it was unlikely the Downing Street police constables could have invented the word “pleb” themselves.
Let’s just pause for a moment to analyse that, shall we?
The inference is that Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell must have called the police officers “plebs” because rank-and-file police officers are too plebeian to have such a word in their vocabulary. As it happens, that is incorrect. Many plebs, a description I happily apply to myself, do know the word pleb. It was a basic playground insult at the state school I attended in the 1980s.
More alarming, however, is the professor’s casual assumption about the lower orders.
Apparently, it is inconceivable that a pair of flat-foots might have been paying attention during GCSE history, less still that they might go home and read a book at night or perhaps watch the History Channel.
Apparently, they fall asleep to repeats of You’ve Been Framed while mainlining Findus Crispy Pancakes. They probably think Caesar is a dog food and that the study of Classics involves trying on Reebok trainers in JJB.
To me, this assumption is equally if not more offensive than Andrew Mitchell’s alleged use of the word “pleb”, which he denies.
However, it passed without comment. It was even seized upon by some left-leaning commentators as evidence that Mitchell is lying about the words he used during the altercation.
Well, who cares about challenging the snobbery of the chattering classes when it is far more fun to knock Lord Snooty off his Ivory Tower?
The anti-Mitchell mob are so blinkered by seething class-based resentment that they are happy to denigrate the intellectual ambitions of the class they are allegedly trying to defend. I believe it is perfectly possible that Andrew Mitchell used the word “pleb”. I also believe it is feasible that a police officer might make it up.
What concerns me is that prejudice and snobbery is a two-way street. Sneering at someone for the life they were born into, privileged or poor, should be unacceptable.
And while we will probably never know for sure if Andrew Mitchell was guilty of class-based prejudice in Downing Street last week, there is ample evidence that we downtrodden plebs are guilty of exactly that crime against Andrew Mitchell.
Put simply: the upper echelons should treat us with respect and vice versa. Which, for the benefit of any police officers reading this, means “the other way around”.