Mitchell plebgate row shows politicians cannot ignore class

Andrew Mitchell on bike Image copyright AP
Image caption Why did Andrew Mitchell's alleged comments to police at Downing Street provoke such a storm?

Ask any non-Brit if class matters in this country and they will probably laugh in your face.

To outsiders it is one of the most striking, curious and not entirely attractive features about modern Britain.

We on the other hand remain curiously diffident - and rather dishonest - on the subject.

And yet as the whole Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" saga has shown, class is never far away - particularly when it comes to politics.

What gave the story its edge was not the fact that Mr Mitchell had abused the police, but the fact he allegedly called them plebs - the clear implication being that he thought he was a cut above mere plods.

Riff raff

Similarly, what caused a minor hiatus about George Osborne's train trip back from his constituency was not the fact that he hadn't bought a first class ticket.

What seemed to matter was the claim that Mr Osborne didn't - or his aides didn't - seem to think he should have to suffer the indignity of sitting with the riff raff in standard class.

Or take the visit by Messrs Gove, Osborne and Ed Vaizey to the Royal Opera House in London the other week, to listen to Wagner.

This was a story not because of their Germanic musical tastes, but because it fuelled a perception of top Tories swanning around at an elitist cultural event - well beyond the pockets of the toiling masses.

Hence too note the annual angst all prime ministers routinely have to go through when it comes to their summer holiday plans.

Privileged backgrounds

Invariably there has to be a rain-sodden "normal" holiday, in some less than exotic part of the UK, or a trip on EasyJet - just to show how the PM is really very ordinary.

Of course what makes class particularly sensitive for this government is the very fact that so many come from comfortably privileged backgrounds.

This may explain Team Cameron's extreme aversion to papers publishing pictures of him in his Bullingdon Club outfit.

The paradox of course is while we are all privately obsessed with class, we all vehemently deny it.

And here's another curiosity - Boris Johnson may play the bumbling, upper class toff to perfection and yet many people clearly love him for it.

What does it all mean? Class matters in politics - it can cut both ways, but it cannot be ignored.

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