I'm listening to a fascinating conversation in our local coffee shop - I can't help it, I hasten to add, as it's being conducted in emphatic tones. The discussion concerns what's been dubbed "Plebgate".
What's interesting is that none of the participants is quite certain of the meaning of the word pleb. It is, I suspect, more familiar to those privileged enough to have received a public school and university education. Exactly what was said at those ugly gates blocking off Downing Street on Wednesday 19th September last year may never be known. One thing is clear and that is that the frustrated Andrew Mitchell did swear at the officers on duty (repeating the "f" word, so familiar from the lips of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It) for which he did subsequently apologise. Just as well in the light of the earlier comments of Boris, Tsar of London: "If people swear at the police, they must expect to be arrested. Not just because it's wrong to expect officers to endure profanities, but it's also because of the experience of the culprits. If people feel there are no comebacks, no boundaries and no retribution for the small stuff, then I'm afraid they will go on to commit worse crimes"!
What is puzzling is where the offending word "pleb" popped up from. Is it in your ordinary copper's daily vocabulary, any more than it is around the table in this rather polite coffee shop?
Last night on Radio 4, following the arraignment of the police federation representatives and the Midlands chief constables before the Commons' Home Affairs select committee, the very patrician Jacob Rees-Mogg MP declared that the police concerned ought to confess, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" (sic - "Through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault"). I'm not sure whether he expected the plebs to know what he was talking about, but he did at least reinforce the spin the opposition have been so keen to create, of a government of toffs out of touch with the majority of the population. At least Mr Mitchell avoided that and used gutter Anglo-Saxon instead.
Personally I find it very sad when politicians undermine trust in the police, and/or vice versa. I know it's tempting to deflect blame on to others, but a cohesive society needs the mortar of trust.