The Plebs and the Politicians

Pleb: n. informal, derog. a member of the lower social classes. Origin from Plebeian.

Who said Latin was a dead language? The last few weeks has seen the Conservatives get into a muddle over seemingly archaic words.

First there was chief whip Andrew Mitchell’s ‘alleged’ rant at a police officer in which he is said to have uttered: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” And all this because he wasn’t allowed to ride his bike through a certain gate.

If this had been uttered at any other time it would most likely have been viewed as an upper-class Tory demeaning those of a lower class and would have quickly faded from the news cycle. The fact he said it just days after two female police officers were shot dead in Manchester was just plain stupid.

Mitchell of course denies he used the language attributed to him. Fair enough you might think, politicians deny things all the time. But this now means he is calling a police officer a liar; albeit indirectly.

This isn’t the first time Mitchell has been accused of abusing those in less privileged positions. During a trip to Rwanda as part of a project looking at social development in the country, Mitchell and his aides are said to have verbally abused a volunteer student journalist. The volunteer had written a draft article criticising how the project was organised and said Mitchell had sent a text to her father saying: “They [his aides] are threatening her with physical violence and I can’t say I blame them.”

MitchellGate, PlebGate or even GateGate does this case of Prig Latin matter? I don’t know how you’d feel if you voted this man into power, a man who represents you and other constituents, only to utter these phrases at an inappropriate time.

The second case of Latin-Oh! was David Cameron’s appearance on The Late Show where he was quizzed on British history by host David Letterman.

DavCam stumbled on who wrote ‘Rule Britannia’ and what ‘Magna Carta’ literally means. I’m pretty sure there are many people in Britain who couldn’t answer these questions. The main question for now is does it matter?

I like to think those in power should have a wide grasp of knowledge  and be able to comprehend the lasting effects of the policies they put in place. Does knowing that Magna Carta translates to The Great Charter enhance or diminish this ability? Ultimately I’d say no.

Now London Mayor Boris Johnson has defended the PM claiming Mr Cameron knew the answer but didn’t want to appear like a know-it-all. BoJo, who studied classics, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means.

“It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

Once we get the image of the PM farting in Latin out of our minds, the question becomes did the Prime Minister deliberately get the answer wrong and if so why? Is it linked to PlebGate and ‘Dave’ took one on the chin to try and alter the public perception of the Tory’s as an old boys, Oxford and Eaton club?

Of course there are those who have said that an American politician would have been grilled if they couldn’t answer a question on American history. What would happen if Obama came to Britain and got quizzed on the meaning of ‘E Pluribus Unum’ or who composed the ‘Star Spangled Banner?’ – Personally I think he’d do pretty well but I’ll remember the joke about why is it called Latin America? Urm… because they speak Latin there?

Guest appearances are a side-show of the political process. They’re an attempt to show the human side of politicians. If they’re going to do this then they should at least be honest about what they have said and think about issues. Public perception is an important part of politics and it isn’t the systems that need to have a greater deal of transparency; but the politicians themselves.