So it’s been a whole year since my previous article in SCAN about Andrew Mitchell and what has now become plebgate. 365 days, dozens of SCAN articles, and a freshers’ year later and I’m back to the same issue again. You’d have thought that something that started out as name-calling would have gone away in that amount of time, but Mitchell’s case has re-emerged in recent months.
For any of you with a hazy memory of your first few weeks of the 2012-13 academic year (which is probably most of us), last September police officers refused to allow Andrew Mitchell to leave Downing Street on his bike, and Mitchell reportedly called the officers ‘plebs’. There was an uproar of controversy against the insult, known as a derogatory term for someone who was state-educated, which resulted in Mitchell resigning from his job as Chief Whip after a media backlash. However, since a concerning lack of punishment from the Conservative party who supported Mitchell despite police witnesses, there have been investigations into the officers who were on duty at the time, with claims that their testimonies were false and that they conspired to bring Mitchell down. Mitchell has consistently denied any use of the term ‘pleb’, but has since admitted to swearing at the officers involved.
Since my previous article which focused on the term ‘pleb’ itself and its inappropriateness in today’s society, I have to admit that my opinion of Mr Mitchell has softened somewhat. As the former Guardian Editor C.P. Scott said, ‘Facts are sacred’ and the media would never have publicised the investigation into the case if Mitchell had been correctly condemned. It is looks like that, in the end, Mitchell probably did not use the term ‘pleb’. CCTV footage from that day has cast doubts over police testimonies, and three men, two of whom are (or were) police officers, have been arrested over the past year. The question is: why on earth were the testimonies given in the first place?
Perhaps the police are no longer to be trusted. Not only are they in hot water over plebgate, but the Hillsborough controversy is still raging on and questions have been raised around the conduct of other undercover officers supposedly fathering children with people they were spying on. Since when did we become a nation where even the police are not to be trusted? It’s easy to say that we don’t trust politicians because they debate and avoid answering probing questions for a living, but the police are there to ensure that others keep to the law. Yet some officers are apparently more than willing to give questionable testimonies just to bring down an MP who, quite frankly, wasn’t the most well-known Cabinet member in the current government.
As ever with something negative in the press, it’s the minority who end up representing the majority. I am sure there are plenty of officers up and down the country who do a fantastic job at keeping Britain safe and these officers need to be congratulated. It’s such a shame that trust in such people is being marred by a couple of major debates caused by very few officers.
Part of me thinks though that such a distrust of the police is brought about merely by the nature of the media in our society. What started out as a minor issue over disrespecting the police has been completely overblown by the media into a scandal, hence the use of the suffix ‘gate’, and in some respects we only have ourselves to blame. If the media didn’t sensationalise or if we weren’t interested in that sensationalism then surely we would have come to the conclusion that plebgate is simply a matter of a few rogue police officers rather than becoming representative of every single police officer in the country. Perhaps the only positive to come out of the whole affair is that the bike that Mitchell tried to leave Downing Street on has been auctioned on eBay for over £10,000, with the money being donated to a charity fighting HIV and Aids in Kenya. If only all scandals could end with something as well as that.