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Thursday, November 27, 2014 

He fought the plebs, and the plebs won.

There's an anecdote Mark Kermode likes to relate (and fellow Wittertainees will know Mark tends to repeat his best ones a lot) about Wes Craven, whose response on discovering Scary Movie would in the main be a parody of Scream, his own tongue-in-cheek post-modern take on the slasher genre, was to say "Wow, things move fast in this town".

As they also do in politics (please excuse the extremely tenuous link).  Lest we forget, Andrew Mitchell resigned just over a month after he swore at the police officers manning the Downing Street gate.  This time last week Emily Thornberry "resigned", or was all but sacked by Ed Miliband a matter of hours after she tweeted a picture of a cage fighting prat's collection of England flags.  After the initial furore, some have been reasonable enough to suggest that if you can't sneer at how someone hasn't taken down the flags they put up for the World Cup six months on then we might as well all just give the fuck up (not that Thornberry necessarily was sneering, as everyone has interpreted her tweet according to how they see the world, just as I did) but the damage was done.  The Sun, champion and defender of plebs everywhere, its journalists going so far to as describe their readers in such terms, spoke and the political class panicked/filled their boots.

Two years later and we at last have the denouement of the Plebgate saga.  It'd be nice to be able to say that never before has so much time, energy and money been wasted over something so unbelievably petty and which it bears repeating, Mitchell apologised over at the time, until you remember wars have started over far less.  Mr Justice Mitting was essentially tasked with deciding whose account of a playground tiff was the more plausible, and predictably enough in the circumstances, opted for the account of the police officer.

Not that Mitting didn't try and make the best of it, having a little fun with his otherwise unutterably miserable task.  He came down on PC Toby Rowland's side, mainly because, in his words, Rowland is "not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent on the spur of the moment an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper".  Or, to give it a Sun-esque spin, Rowland's a bit thick.

The real question is what possessed Mitchell to imagine the verdict would be anything different.  Undoubtedly traduced by the Police Federation, once the work of the Gaunt Brothers was stripped out the case was always going to come down to whether there was significant doubt concerning Rowland's account of their exchange.  Written up and logged within 90 minutes of the incident, was it ever likely to be found substantially inaccurate, or as Mitchell alleged, a work of fiction designed to bring him down?  Rowland exaggerated about passers-by looking shocked, but otherwise there was no evidence presented that contradicted him.  Mitchell admitted he swore, that he said words to the effect of "I thought you were meant to help us" and "you haven't heard the last of this", so why couldn't he have also said the p-word?  No amount of character references from Bob "fucking" Geldof were liable to persuade Mitting otherwise.

One can only conclude that as with politicians in the distant and recent past, Mitchell refused to accept the inevitable until it finally arrived.  It's hard not to feel sorry for him: never should a understandable if perhaps revealing loss of temper have cost him so dearly, yet at the same time he also has no one else to blame.  It's clearly too much to hope for the media to perhaps show a little more understanding, considering the events of last week and when politicians themselves were so keen to make so much out of so little, but it'd be nice to think us plebs might step back and think before condemning in such uncertain terms.

On second thoughts, nah.

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