The single syllable was reportedly not the most profane part of Andrew Mitchell’s tirade at police officers who asked him to get off his bicycle as he passed through the gates of Downing Street. But it is the most incendiary — a pejorative term for the working class with a whiff of contempt that is bad news for a government often characterized as elitist.
Class distinctions are the great elephant in the room in British society, ever-present but rarely discussed. It’s a topic that proves a minefield for any politician keen to appeal to a wide range of voters. And the four-letter clanger attributed to Mitchell lands as a thudding reminder that class is still a potent and divisive aspect of British life.
Last week’s altercation between the minister and police officers guarding the approach to the prime minister’s residence has been seized on by the media and political opposition and escalated into a political tempest with its own title: “Gategate.”