Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Why are Rupert Murdoch’s men damning Andrew Mitchell?

If you want to picture Rupert Murdoch imagine an old man on a tight rope. On the one hand, his newspapers must pursue his interests – say that everyone but the rich must pay the price of austerity, for instance. But as he wobbles over the void, Murdoch must also balance his rather brutal class interest with populist attacks on ‘the elite’ to assure readers of modest means that he is, despite everything, ‘on their side’.

Normally the Murdoch press can stay upright by confining itself to savaging the liberal elite, which to be fair, never fails to provide him with a rich choice of targets. But every now again it feasts on blue blood.

The Times – which is becoming a tabloid in content as well as form these days – has been saying in essence that Andrew Mitchell was guilty of calling a Downing Street police officer a ‘fucking pleb’. The campaign to vindicate Mitchell is a waste of time. The Independent Police Complaints Commissioner was a fool when she said the web of false statements and leaks from the police amounted to a conspiracy in all but name. Her statement that officers had ‘brought shame upon the police service’ could not have been more false.

Yesterday The Times ran the headline ‘The Truth about Plebgate’. But the bathetic story underneath did not reveal ‘the truth’ or anything like it. Instead, it had an account from Ian Richardson, a retired officer, who was on duty when Andrew Mitchell tried to cycle through the gates of Downing Street. This was the moment which led to the Met’s Chief Commissioner, the Police Federation, the Sun, the Telegraph, the Labour Party and just about everybody else claiming that, rather than just cursing the men who blocked his path, as Mitchell admitted, he used the career-killing insult of “plebs” – until, that is, the cops’ story began to unravel.

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