Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Class-based bigotry is not OK” was written by Ellie Mae O’Hagan, for theguardian.com on Sunday 23rd September 2012 16.16 Europe/London

Ah Tories. Interesting specimens aren’t they? Admittedly I’m not a fan, but I must say I appreciate their efforts to make life easier for leftwingers such as myself. Some days we don’t even have to get out of bed to make them look bad.

Last Friday was one of those days. If you haven’t heard yet (and if you haven’t, seriously: where have you been?), one Andrew Mitchell – chief whip, multimillionaire, and former merchant banker – allegedly informed two police officers that they were “fucking plebs” who “best learn their place“. After initially denying using “‘any of the words that have been reported”, he has since admitted swearing, though still argues that he didn’t use the word “pleb”. At a time of exceptional tragedy for the police, the kindest thing you can say about the chief whip is that he is not burdened with a keen sense of appropriate timing.

As often with such “gaffes”, as they are euphemistically called, the public response is more instructive than the allegations themselves. So it was interesting to note the reaction to the story from the leftwing Twitterati, which was to side a little uncomfortably with the police in the way that one might reluctantly defend the actions of a drunken family member. Having to choose between Tories and the police force is never going to be easy for the left, but it did make me wonder what the reaction might have been had Mitchell been accused of making racist comments towards a black officer. Would our condemnation have been begrudging then? Probably not.

See, the sad thing about this whole affair is that, in a way, Mitchell has already won. He may have been accused of making ugly, class-based slurs, but thanks to the tireless propaganda of his party, he’s more likely to be portrayed as rude rather than bigoted.

Years after John Major’s “classless society” and Thatcher’s declaration that “there are only individuals“, the role of class has been airbrushed out of our interactions so successfully that a privileged man can sneer at two working people and avoid any real analysis of his actions.

The press has already transformed Mitchell’s transgression from one of class-based bigotry to one of colourful language – describing his rant primarily as “foul-mouthed” and “rude”, as though that’s all there is to it.

The same day he unleashed his tirade, the actress Sheridan Smith gave an interview to Radio 4’s Today programme about her appearance as the lead in Hedda Gabler. She has in the past described herself as a “scrubber” from Doncaster, condemned to play “chavs and slappers”. It’s a strange quirk of a society where class snobbery is so entrenched that the victims of discrimination end up applying it themselves, either as an attempt to distance themselves from a negative stereotype, or because they have internalised the discrimination so much that it is accepted as the natural order of things, rather than something that should be challenged and changed.

Without an acknowledgement that class-based discrimination is unacceptable, the MPs who are cutting wages, jobs and services will be allowed to peddle the myths that blame impoverished people for their own difficult circumstances.

The day before the Mitchell story broke, Tory MP Damian Collins was accused of telling young unemployed people they should busk to make money if they can’t get paid jobs. That the economy might not quite be able to accommodate a million buskers doesn’t matter as long as the idea that unemployment is the result of the laziness of the underclass persists.

So when a member of the moneyed elite is accused of calling ordinary people “plebs”, we should perhaps respond by calling a spade a spade. Class-based bigotry is not OK. We shouldn’t stand for it.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Comments
  • jed goodright September 24, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Agree
    This example shows clearly how mendacious and venal and odious the present tory government is. Entitlement – yes Mitchell thinks he’s entitled alright. sack the bastard now – but it won’t happen because Cameron and Osborne , the lot of them are just the same.

    Does the labour party exist anymore – they are very quiet

    • David Andrews June 4, 2013 at 10:47 am

      There is no credible Labour Party now. Not since Blair turned them into Tories in red trousers.

  • ODIN September 24, 2012 at 9:34 am

    The man is a bigoted lying scumbag W****r , I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire. Why am I thinking of guillotines?

  • kelpimare September 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

    He’s the chief whip of the wealth protectionist party, so why do y’all expect him to be a decent human(e) being? He’d be lucky to qualify as an anus.

  • Serenity September 24, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Even if he didn’t use the word pleb, ( I just know he did though), you should know your place says it all, anyhow!
    Class bigotry has always been acceptable in this country we are known worldwide for it. Even the Germans ect got rid of titles and became a republics after WW1.
    They have private schools and medicine, ( this is how they can destroy our schools & NHS without it affecting them), they don’t ever mix with us plebs unless we are in a servile position we shall never come into contact.
    There is much ado about racism, equality what a load of crap when our landed gentry, “betters” live in a parallel world from which we plebs are excluded.

  • jeffery davies September 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    they sent a young lad to jail for swearing at the police why cant he get the same as he new better but alass we wont see that hes upper crust jeff3 watch out police officers as i see shitte coming your way over this they wont allow it the torys are back stabbing scum who hold a grudge jeff3

  • Annos June 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

    “‘Culture of control’

    However Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Today’s inspection report is the damning postscript to a long story of violence and harm in this privately-run children’s prison.

    “Far from being a place of security, this was a hotbed of violence and abuse where bones were broken, levels of self-harm soared and children were routinely subjected to invasive strip-searches.

    “And yet, when asked by the inspection team if they felt unsafe, the children said no.

    “So embedded was this culture of control by physical force that dangerous practices had become normal to them.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-22755787

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