by Jonathan Todd
As the Justice Collective were securing the Christmas Number One, a new, BBC comedy, Mr Stink, was portraying an aspirant politician as venal and self-serving. At the same time, Labour people were stressing to anyone who would listen – or at least their twitter streams – that Andrew Mitchell swore at the police.
While he admits doing so, and it is unedifying and disrespectful that he did, it seems likely that Mitchell has also been the victim of police conspiracy and perversion of justice. In which the police has been aided and abetted by a capricious media.
The suffering of Mitchell has been sincere and unjustified. It is, of course, nothing as compared with the pain and injustice visited upon the families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. There are, however, some common themes: distortion of the truth by the police, driven by selfish motives and perpetuated by the industry whose failings Lord Leveson has catalogued in detail.
These themes transcend party politics. They char at the heart of what we are as a country: equal before the law; respectful of truth and justice; fundamentally decent.
It is virtually a truism to observe, as John Stuart Mill did, that the worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it. If we do not have police officers that serve justice, a media that seeks truth and politicians that hold police officers and journalists to these tasks then we have a citizenry of diminished worth, failing to uphold the most essential of British values.
To quibble over a misplaced curse in these circumstances is to confuse the crudely tribal woods with the trees that form the bigger picture. It is to give in to the tendencies that characterised the mendacious and superficial candidate on Mr Stink. Nothing would have got in the way of some personal or party advantage, no matter how small, for this sharp-elbowed sort and her equally unattractive party leader.
Hugh Bonneville initially seemed to invert the noblesse oblige of Downton Abbey, the show with which he is most associated. The homeless Mr Stink, who he portrayed, was the good guy and virtue seemed inversely proportionate to social standing. Those further up the social ladder displayed only ruthless determination to ascend further up the greasy pole. It later transpired that Mr Stink was an aristocrat fallen upon hard times, so Bonneville had not turned the world of Downton quite so on its head as it first appeared.
His character, nonetheless, tells us something of how politicians are perceived. The party leader spied in the suddenly popular Mr Stink, someone who might save him from by-election defeat by taking his party’s candidature. Upon declining this offer, Mr Stink informed the party leader in Number 10 Downing Street that he and his companion had “to be getting back to the real world”.
Whether virtue more readily attaches to chavs or the landed gentry, politicians do not operate in the same world as everyone else. They exist in a world where advantage is endlessly calculated, brutally pursued and nothing – certainly not virtue – is authentic.
Perhaps this is why the police thought they could do for Mitchell. No one would care for an abuse against a reviled minority. It undoubtedly appears that the low regard in which politicians are held is reflected in the end of year marks given to senior figures in the Guardian/ICM poll: David Cameron (C-), Nick Clegg (D), Ed Miliband (C-) and George Osborne (D+).
The Justice Collective, in contrast, has evidently given an A+ performance. They are nothing if not genuine, motivated by high virtue and unknown to low cunning. Thus, quite the opposite to how politicians are perceived.
Labour can look at the blue rosette on the candidate in Mr Stink, cling to the swearing of Mitchell and tell ourselves that how we are perceived is closer to the perception of the Justice Collective than that of politicians in general. While the Guardian/ICM poll showed some improvement in Ed Miliband’s standing, we would not only be deluding ourselves if we do so but damaging ourselves also.
Mr Stink’s candidate may have worn a blue rosette but was never, as far as I noted, identified as a Conservative. When Mr Stink participated in a TV debate three politicians sat together and Mr Stink sat apart from them. Labour activists are probably not seeing things as most do if we think the joke was wholly on the Conservatives. We are doing likewise if we make too much of Mitchell’s swearing.
If Labour wants to be more like the Justice Collective we should put aside petty tribalism and focus on what really matters, which, as the Hillsborough families know, includes police corruption.
Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist