Rather than write about the more obvious points about Plebgate – from the actions themselves to the foolishness of taking libel actions when the consequences of losing could be so damaging and when your reputation has already been substantially repaired – I want to write about one particular turn of phrase used by Mr Justice Mitting. He said that Mitchell’s behaviour had been ‘childish’.
It’s a common enough description – and anyone who ever watches the ridiculousness that is Prime Minister’s Questions, the absurd self-importance, name-calling and point-scoring that most politicians seem to get up to on the BBC’s Question Time knows what it refers to. Politicians do seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time – and from the evidence in the Plebgate libel trial not just their time in the public eye – engaging in this kind of activity. They even do it in the laws they draft – anyone who has seen the Social Action, Responsibility And Heroism (‘SARAH’) bill will see that it’s ridiculous, irrelevant and designed only to try to get a few headlines in the tabloids. Absurd is too polite a word for a law like this. And then we have ‘grandees’ like David Mellor ranting and swearing at cab drivers.
It’s an insult to us, who elect them and pay their salaries (and expenses) that they do so – but it’s also an insult to children to call this kind of activity childish. I have an eight year old daughter, and she and her friends may engage in this kind of thing from time to time, but, frankly, not that often. What’s more, they feel ashamed of it when they do it – at least most of the time – and they spend a lot more time being cooperative, friendly, listening to each other, being joyful, free, honest and helpful. What’s more, the ones that I know seem to spend a lot of time really wanting to learn…
…which is something that MPs seem conspicuously unwilling or unable to do. The point scoring, the straw-man arguments, the bare-faced-lies, the attempts to get things just for themselves, are all things that we wouldn’t (and as parents generally don’t) accept from children. In grown adults, highly educated, highly paid, in deeply responsible positions, making decisions that have a massive impact on all of us, it’s far worse.