Chief whips of political parties never enjoy the same recognition as the cabinet ministers they sometimes have to cajole during crucial parliamentary votes. However, the current Conservative holder of the position, Andrew Mitchell, wormed his way into national headlines by spitting his dummy out at a Downing Street police officer who stopped him from using the main exit. Mitchell allegedly unleashed a foul-mouthed rant, culminating in calling the officer a ‘pleb’ who should learn to ‘know your fucking place’.
What a giveaway. Like Graham Chapman’s King Arthur character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who instinctively refers to passers-by as ‘bloody peasants’, here is another true blue Tory whose true colours were obviously never far from the surface. ‘Know your fucking place?’ On the face of it, Mitchell seems a typical Middle English snob. He has form as a politician with his snout in the trough. In 2006 he invested funds in private firms implicated in tax dodging (avoiding £65,100 of stamp duty). In 2009 he claimed for a 13p stick of glue on his parliamentary expenses.
He is arrogant but not nearly as hawkish as his
'know your place' jibe suggests and has bucked
several Tory trends.
Although arrogant, Mitchell is not nearly as hawkish as his ‘know your place’ jibe suggests and has bucked several Tory trends. He has been vocal in his support for Palestinian causes and voted in favour of gay civil partnerships. While in opposition he extensively toured impoverished parts of Africa creating video reports. In 2008 he personally taught English to over 1,000 Rwandan primary school teachers. During an official visit to Burma he openly challenged the regime's record of systematic human rights abuses and its imprisonment of oppostion leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
We all know a fair percentage of the privately-
educated think the rest of us are plebs.
At the end of the day, letting emotions get the better of him was perhaps more of an example of Mitchell the person rather than Mitchell the Tory whip. He probably began regretting uttering those words seconds after they slipped from his mouth. We all know a fair percentage of the privately-educated think the rest of us are plebs who should know our place. But as redeeming features go, championing human rights in Burma and Rwanda are a pretty decent counterbalance.