By Hugh Ash
There's a hoary adage in this weird, old words business, ‘When in doubt, leave out.’ The advice is – invariably sound, in my humble experience – that if something wasn’t provable beyond a reasonable doubt, you dropped it like a hot brick, unless you had a fetish for appearing before bewigged m’lords in libel courts.
Andrew Mitchell, the UK Coalition government’s former Chief Whip, is a prime example of the ‘doubt dictum’ ignored and it’s cost him – so far – £3-million for the privilege of abusing his privilege.
Brimming with hubris, he committed legal hara-kiri by suing The Sun newspaper for libel, after it leaked details of the words – and particularly the slur, ‘f***ing pleb’ – Mitchell used in a ruckus with police, when the plods refused to open the gates of Downing Street so he could wheel his push-bike through them.
In court proceedings of what became dubbed the Plebgate Scandal the scales were tipped by the contemporaneous notes of the reporting officer, a PC Rowland, whom the judge, Mr. Justice Mitting, believed on the basis the copper was…er…too thick to have made it up.
In his summing up of the case, the judge said the officer was ‘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.’
While this speaks volumes about the nous of a section of London’s Metropolitan constabulary, it also illuminates how utterly insulated from reality and real people – if, indeed, coppers qualify as such – those who believe they were born to rule truly are.
Mitchell, rich enough to take the huge libel fees hit, remains unrepentant and unabashed, continuing to think he is a ruler, not a ruled.
It’s a fault-line in the minds of many of the arrogant elite, too consumed with the aphrodisiacs of wealth and power.
So it is a good thing that, from time to time, they’re reminded of their human frailties by the hoi poloi.
Adam Boulton, Sky TV’s Political Editor, recounts an anecdote of another brought to earth with a humiliating bump: one-time Conservative head honcho, Michael Howard.
Once stopped in his tracks by a PC from going through a barred door, the then Home Secretary stomped, ‘Do you know who I am?’
Showing commendable cool and cheeky defiance in the face of his self-proclaimed better, the policeman merely clicked on his radio and said, ‘Er, Sarge, we got a bloke here who doesn’t know who he is.’
Last week rage similarly did for fallen Tory grandee, David Mellor, who appeared ‘tired and emotional’ – Private Eye magazine’s euphemism for alcoholically challenged – when launching a foul-mouthed rant at a taxi driver during a ride home from a bash at Buckingham Palace with his partner, Lady Cobham.
Furious at the route they were on, he called the cabbie ‘a sweaty, stupid little sh*t and smart a*se’, adding, ‘Shut the f*** up’ and, for the autobiographical one-upmanship, ‘I’ve been in the Cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I’m a Queen’s Counsel – you think that your experiences are anything compared to mine?’
Alas for the arrogant Mellor, in 1992 forced to resign as Heritage Minister after his month-long holiday in Marbella as guest of the daughter of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s paymaster made headlines, the canny cabbie taped the exchange, which appeared – you’ve guessed it – in The Sun.
At least Mellor, who is to broadcasting what your truly is to astrophysics, had the good grace to apologise for his tirade the following day, presumably his champagne goggles having faded.
However, it’s still my earnest hope that London’s 25,000 Hackney carriage drivers will blacklist Mellor and even Transylvanian minicab drivers will switch off their sat-navs if he ever chances into their back seats and turn his 20-minute hop from Westminster to Chelsea into a three-hour tour round the M25.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a grudging admiration for coppers and cabbies, since they wield the power to represent the revenge of the have-nots against ludicrously vain authority figures, too bumptious for their boots.
But, borrowing from Karl Marx, sometimes it is the massed ranks of the proletariat, coupled with the wonders of 21st Century social media that does for those who use their position to do unto others, even if the others are higher up the greasy pole.
Just such an example was the American public’s response to top Republican aide, Elizabeth Lauten’s vicious attack on President Barack Obama’s daughters, Malia, 16, and 13-year-old Sasha, press-ganged into appearing with their dad on TV at the tradition ‘spare-a-turkey’ Thanksgiving Day ceremony.
Typically bored and glum as teenagers are, the girls trundled through the motions of doing their bit, but certainly didn’t deserve Lauten’s eviscerating insults, posted on her Facebook page (since deleted).
‘Dear Sasha and Malia,’ she wrote patronisingly. ‘I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play.
‘Then again, your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter. So I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the good role model department.’
The post went on to advise the girls to ‘rise to the occasion and act like being in the White House matters to you.’
And, to twist the knife of spite a further turn, Lauten added, ‘Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.’
Frankly, the girls were clad far more appropriately than I’ve seen many teenagers. And while their father isn’t necessarily at the top of many folks’ Christmas card lists, his children are off limits – a point rammed home to Lauten in an avalanche of on-line condemnation the silly woman richly deserved.
After prayerful reflection and probably much prodding from her Republican Party bosses, a contrite Lauten apologised and quit, saying she ‘had judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager.’
So power to the people – even coppers and cabbies – in showing up our egotistical betters as less than half our equals.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com