What the Mitchell fallout really says about class war
The furore over the comments allegedly made by Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and his resignation have undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the Government.
But there is another agenda going on here.
Chris Mullin, the civil liberties campaigner who served as a Labour MP and Minister for 27 years, accused those stoking the row of making a "mountain out of a molehill".
He described the Police Federation, which had repeatedly called for Mr Mitchell's sacking, as a "bunch of head-bangers" and recounted his own run-in. He said the Federation sought to have him removed as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee when he raised questions about the probity of the police disciplinary system.
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The view is that the Federation, which is in effect the police union, is a touch angry about Government cuts, particularly to police pensions, and this was payback time.
And one has to ask: how did the Sun newspaper come to know the details unless the police themselves leaked it?
This was, after all, confidential information kept by people who have a responsibility for guarding No 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister.
Then there was Labour, who thought it was to their advantage to stoke the fire. Ed Miliband raised it in PMQs and a Commons motion on police numbers and cuts was tabled – with the likelihood that several MPs would use it as an excuse to further embarrass Mr Mitchell and intensify demands that he resign.
The truth is, Ed Miliband liked this story. He liked it very much, because he believed it was about class warfare and it proved useful, while drawing up battle lines for the next election, to position the Conservatives as the party of the rich and privileged. The alleged use of the word 'pleb' implied an attitude. It was perfect.
There is a certain hypocrisy here, of course. Miliband preaches about one nation in his conference speech but loses no opportunity to practise class warfare. And a battle of the classes is much easier to deliver than facing up to the difficult challenges of a changed world, is it not?
No sooner had Mitchell resigned than Miliband was trying to revive the tension with some silly story about the Chancellor sitting in a first-class train carriage with a standard ticket. On the same day, the Office for National Statistics announced the good news that the nation had borrowed £6.7bn less than previously thought since April, after revisions to earlier data. Marginally more important, I would suggest.
It was all there on display during Conference season, if you were prepared to look.
Ed Milliband gave a strong performance but he ducked the difficult challenges facing this country. His only plan: to spend more and borrow more.
This is a massive gamble with our economy and our future. We're in this situation because his party spent too much and borrowed too much. How can the answer be more borrowing and more debt?
This country is going through a difficult moment, but we have a plan to deal with it: tackling the debt crisis left by Labour; reducing public spending so we live within our means; insisting on higher standards and discipline in our schools, so our children and our country can succeed in an increasingly competitive world; reforming our welfare system so it pays to work; and ending the something-for-nothing culture that's been choking our country.
And we're doing this not to protect the privileged or the rich, who incidentally have been taxed much higher than they ever were under Labour, but to back people who work hard and want to get on in life.
The simple truth is unless we act, unless we take difficult, painful decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past.
We are in a global race today. Every battle we fight, every plan we make, every decision we take is to achieve that end – Britain on the mend.
Aspiration is the engine of progress. Countries rise when they allow their people to rise. Our motivation is to get behind people, whatever their backgrounds, who want to make that happen, not just for themselves, but for the country as well.
By Hugo Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon.