Back to PC and Farewell to the Bigger Picture
For London Heathrow, the arrival gate was surprisingly empty. I thought I remembered one of the busiest airport terminals in the world being a little more crowded, compact and bustling, but obviously not tonight. Or was it night? My thirteen hour jet-lag had skewed time, compounded by the fact that even if it was early evening the only illumination was from unnatural halogen lighting rather than the fading UV of another sunny day in the tropics. An immediate sense of depression started weighing heavily on my shoulders but I was home, and irrationally happy.
Despite my awful plane journey – sandwiched between the cabin toilets, a smelly French couple (as I learned last night during a game of Trivial Pursuit, the average Frenchman uses only two soap tablets each year compared to an Englishman’s four; despite the argument of whether anyone uses soap tablets at all in this day and age) and their 2 month old baby – Big Mark, my big driver, needed to impress upon me some desperate facts to prepare me for my month’s stay.
“Now, I realise you may be tired but there is one thing I must tell you before you relax,” he declared without any prompt or interest from my part. I made another mental note to at least test whether the taxi men in Malaysia felt the need to impart any words of wisdom on their fares.
The story, however, plugged me into another cold reality; the reality that I had arrived home to an even deeper and more conservative, nit-picking politically correct environment than when I had last left. My previous encounter with the British tabloids had left me aware of chaos as one of the harshest winters fell upon Europe, glee for thousands when Gordon Brown announced his departure from office as Prime Minister and the cruel rumblings of a working-class revolution causing the ageing Prince of Wales to consider, after being attacked whilst in his private car, whether he needed to begin his days with an extra pair of underwear in his wife’s, Camilla’s, handbag.
Andrew John Bower Mitchel was a Conservative Party MP for Gedling and Sutton Coldfield before serving in Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development and finally Chief Whip for the House of Commons. The very key word is ‘was,’ because he is not any more – surprising considering that the Chief Whip position is usually secretive and immune to the talons of the British media allowing them to make use of as much gratuitous violence in keeping their party–or anyone- in order. A man, then, accustomed to verbally decapitating opposition without being held accountable for repercussions so much so that he earned he name ‘Thrasher’ very early on in his school career as a strict disciplinarian. How on earth could he be at the center of an enquiry over offensive speech?
Thrasher is not a man accustomed to being politically correct and yet obviously planned on aiding his image for International Development by committing to ‘save the planet’ by commuting to Number 10 via bicycle. Ironically, the need to impress the public with his care over carbon emissions led to the deadly altercation in September 2012 resulting in his resignation. While leaving Downing Street, Mitchel was accused of calling on-duty policemen ‘plebs’ after they refused to let him exit via the main gate on his bicycle. Despite the admittance by Mitchel himself of using the word ‘f**k’ and other profanities, the scandal has been dubbed the ‘Plebgate’, and Mitchel’s apologies are centred around using this word as a word not part of his normal vocabulary cited as saying anyone who knows him knows he does not use such vulgar language.
Is ‘pleb’ as bad as ‘f**k’? I realise the inescapable road into the question of arguing about semantics. But, being politically correct is about semantics, details, the fine line between what is and what is not and, in most cases, if there should be any line at all. In our de-sensitised times a true swear word has become nothing more than an extension of expression where as ‘plebeian’ is based on class, and class is not to be messed with. Even though the public’s political loyalty has become less based on class- belived by almost all political scientists since the 1960’s-as is cultural, economic and social loyalty not based on class, the suggestion of class implies all of the stereotypes that go with it.
However, how is it believable for this ‘stern disciplinarian’ not to use anything more imaginative as pleb after a life of verbal hurricanes aimed at stripping the skin off of the poor incumbent on the receiving end? I would like to hear the comparison between a grown policeman’s experience of a ‘Thrasher’ tirade compared to the experience of a twenty year old student journalist called Lucy Kinder, who came under fire from Mitchel after releasing some objective thoughts of his Conservative Project Umubano in Rwanda. Both in the same boat, both faced with an earful of expletives, but only one with the rose tinted imagination of fame, newspaper coverage, a story and beating the system-and it was not the journalist.
The principle being made by the upset policeman seems to be that insults, despite their extremity, should not be spoken to a policeman whether by a street yob or a member of Parliament.
Indeed. But then again should the police use their bravado, Etononian coterie to entrap a by- stander-yob or minster-into committing an act of anti-social behaviour? In an enquiry into the issue, it has materialised that the plain clothes policeman used as a witness (now revealed as not being there at all) bent the truth on what was said in the first place, although it is still agreed that something nasty was said. Well, good job too-it would be a shame for the government, Downing Street with all its security and the Metropolitan Police not to be able to find out exactly if any disagreement had happened at all.
And yet, what were the motives behind raising the dispute to a public level and open to the sharp teeth of the national press corps. Andrew Mitchel obviously had a bad day and probably thought a lot of other things than just ‘pleb’ when a grown man tried to exert his power over such an issue as a push-bike. On the other hand, Mitchel may have expected the gate to open much like Mother Theresa expecting admission through the pearly white gates of heaven even if she did turn up in a Ferrari GT. So why make the fuss? Unless this episode of political correctness gone mad uncovers Downing Street as actually the base for psychotic underground experiments on small children the exposure, enquiry and court cases will ultimately not change the trajectory of the earth’s orbit. What will be the result-of confused, jumped up entitlement and hydraulic powered spin- is that Andrew Mitchel will lose his job in Cabinet permanently despite being probably the most competent man for the job and a policeman-still pumped up from the student rebellion-will have won one last battle before retirement. Not exactly the bigger picture.