Let's re-cap quickly for anyone not paying attention. Andrew Mitchell, Tory MP and Chief Whip, attempted to leave Downing Street on a bicycle before being told by a copper that he was not allowed to use the main entrance, and should instead use the side gate. Such provocation prompted Mitchell, a former UN peacekeeper, to lose his rag and launch a foul mouthed tirade against this uppity oik, and you get the impression that the affronted Tory was on the verge of giving the officer a Basil Fawlty-style damn good thrashing.
The police account of the event ended up on the front page of The Sun, which claimed Mitchell had called the officer a pleb. Mitchell himself denies that he said 'pleb' but admits to be abusive. I must confess that there was a brief moment when I thought Mitchell might actually be telling the truth. As a Liverpool fan I immediately become sceptical any time I see the police report an incident and The Sun regurgitate it assuring us that it is an accurate version of events ("a.k.a. The Truth").
The trouble for Mitchell is that the idea of a member of Cameron's Bullingdon Club Cabinet having nothing but contempt for us poor people is eminently plausible. The police officer at the centre of the saga alledges Mitchell told him:
"Best you learn your fucking place... you don't run this fucking government. You're all fucking plebs."There can't be a trade union member in the country who doesn't think that the Tories talk about us in these terms every single day. It is afterall the subtext to every Coalition cut and piece of legislation. Three hundred years ago we were the swinish multitude, today we're still plebs. How far we've come.
But it is the context rather than the specifics that are most interesting. The past few months have seen the police come under increased scrutiny and continued vilification - and with good cause. The corruption and brutality of the force, long apparent but so often deniable, has played out centre stage, most notably with the high profile inquests into the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, and the release of the independent report into the Hillsborough tragedy. A central plank of ruling class ideology - the rule of law and the use of the police to enforce it - has come under sustained attack.
The events of the last two weeks, however, have enabled the attack dogs of the status quo to go on the counter offensive. Almost as soon as the news of two female police officers being killed in Manchester hit the headlines we had Norman Tebbit calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty, while an assortment of Conservative backbench non-entities made noises about arming the police. Crticisms of the force are being sidelined in the mainstream at a time when so much evidence points to its political nature and institutional dishonesty and violence. Andrew Mitchell calling a pig a pleb may have been a moment of embarrassment for Cameron, but it has helped to create a flurry of uncritical and unthinking media commentary favourable to the police. It has played its own small part in ensuring that the questions being asked of the old bill are framed purely in terms of how much respect we have for them. As such Mitchell's rant has proved as much a gift as a gaffe for the establishment.
For anyone in Portsmouth who might be interested: I'll be speaking on "Hillsborough, the police and the Tories" at Southsea Community Centre, Wednesday 3rd October, 8pm.