Political history is littered with the cadavers of careers that 'might have been'. One thinks often of the remarkable 'Rab' Butler, one of only two politicians to have served in three of the four 'Great Offices of State'. A combination of factors led to Butler failing to make it to the very top job, though the vulgar interventions of lesser men and irreverent satirists certainly played their part. 'Rab' is now sadly an increasingly forgotten figure; had history been a little kinder he might have kept the ghastly Wilson out of Downing Street in 1964 and the Beatles from their MBEs.
It has long been my opinion that the paths of most political lives are not dissimilar to a 'continental breakfast'. From the moment one embarks upon one's choice, there is an element of chance involved, a frisson of danger as to what might be coming and invariably, a certain degree of disappointment when one is finally handed the plate. As one sits looking at one's limp croissant, paltry offering of jam and the inevitable 'slice of meat', one can find oneself questioning one's judgement, lamenting one's direction and pondering increasingly upon what it all means. At this point, in a moment of deepest despair one might glimpse a 'full English' arriving at an adjoining table, manned by uncouth fellow diners who have given little thought to their order, but been amply rewarded nonetheless.
Which leads us inevitably to the depressing saga of the former Chief Whip.
One is not for a moment comparing Andrew Mitchell to the great 'Rab' Butler, or even a continental breakfast, but while one can think of many great men whose political lives have been brought crashing down by unfortunate peccadillos, indiscreet staff, or death one can think of only one whose career has been ended by swearing at a police officer. While in no way condoning the use of foul language, it does seem grossly unfair, that while the public is on record as saying that they wish their politicians to be 'more normal' the very moment a government minister resorts to the 'language of the street' they are upbraided for it.
Last night's revelation that the term 'pleb' was not actually deployed adds a further layer to this increasingly tiresome business. As was pointed out at the time of the incident, that now appears never to have occurred, plebeian is a noble word whose principle meaning is 'citizen or free man' and its usage as a term of abuse might well have been unknown to Andrew had he indeed used it (which it appears he did not).
Clearly there is much tension between the government and the Police Federation at the moment and one does wonder whether Mr Mitchell has fallen victim to what some might term a 'rabid conspiracy'. More pertinently, it clearly demonstrates that the decision in the 1970s to stop teaching Latin in secondary moderns has had far more terrible consequences than anybody could have foretold.