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PM, make the Dogger grovel

“How can someone who went to Rugby call anyone a pleb?”

Heartfelt apologies to the many readers out there who, noticing my absence from these pages, must have spent the past eight months – can it really have been that long? – anxiously scanning the obits for fear of my demise. Fear not, dear readers, I live.

Just. Those with better-thanaverage memories will recall my last appearance in these pages, when it appeared that I had fallen asleep as a speech by Julian Fellowes at the “Inaugural Coalition Fundraising Dinner Dance” entered its second hour. If only I had been so lucky. In reality, Fellowes, in his infinite tedium, had managed to render me comatose.

For many months the doctors thought the wretched man might have killed me (apparently the CPS seriously considered bringing charges – a legal first!), before I regained consciousness on Good Friday and, over a particularly bloody summer, gradually recaptured the bits of my brain that Fellowes had battered insensate.

My lapse was rare but not unique. The records showing that a Norman Fowler stump speech in 1987 left an innocent shopper catatonic and, more recently, two unfortunates were discovered to be in comas having paid to see An Audience with Dom Joly. You cannot be too careful.

Uncoincidentally, my absence has seen Tory support plummet. So severely that last week DC called upon me, even though he knew full well that bits of Fellowes were still lodged in my cranium.

“Gidster, you won’t believe what Dogger has done now.” (Note for the uninitiated: Andrew Mitchell is known as Dogger. Don’t ask.)

“Killed someone?”

“He’s gone and called a policeman a pleb.”

“What . . . ?”

“Within hours of my condolences of the nation speech he calls a copper a pleb.”

“But that makes no sense.”

“It’s beyond senseless.”

“How can someone who went to Rugby call anyone a pleb?”

“Forget the fine details, GD. How do we play this out?”

“I mean that’s like a parvenu calling a nouve a prole. It doesn’t –”

“Gideon, this is no time for semantics: what the fuck do I do?”

“Draw a line under it, PM. Make the Dogger grovel.”

“Over to you, GD . . .”

Frothing at mouth

Our problem was blurring the issues. The “misunderstanding” gambit seemed a runner, given Dogger’s propensity to froth, particularly after a long curry. But “you fucking celeb” wasn’t really an improvement and “you fucking Hleb” just a little too obscure even for a football-obsessed nation. Obfuscation – I’m very clear about what I said and what I didn’t say and I didn’t say what it is said I said – just gave people a headache. And the suggestion that if used with a certain emphasis “pleb” could be viewed as a compliment never left the ground.

Line after line after line was, as the political pundits say, drawn in the sand. The Donald rule has always been that three lines and you’re out. But the Chief Whip clings on grimly like a pit bull clamping on to an infant’s plump arm. And no one, not even his consigliere, can persuade Dave that it is time to shoot this dangerous Dogger.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Labour conference special