David Cameron defends Andrew Mitchell amid fresh sacking demands

 

David Cameron was forced to defend his chief whip again today amid fresh demands for him to be sacked over his notorious confrontation with police.

Labour leader Ed Miliband used the first Prime Minister's Questions since the incident last month to launch a furious attack on Andrew Mitchell.

Pointing to Mr Mitchell, sitting near David Cameron on the Government front bench, Mr Miliband insisted he should have been arrested like any other "yob" who had sworn at officers.

"While it is a night in the cell for the yobs, it is a night at the Carlton Club for the chief whip. Isn't that the clearest case there could be of total double standards?" he said.

"His position is untenable. In other words, he is toast."

But Mr Cameron accused the Opposition leader of focusing on "clever political questions" rather than the big issues facing the country.

"What the chief whip did and what the chief whip said were wrong. I am absolutely clear about that," he said.

"That is why it was important that the chief whip apologised and that apology was accepted...

"The apology has been accepted by the officers concerned, it has been accepted by the Metropolitan Police."

The Premier added of Mr Miliband: "He doesn't want to talk about what we need to do in this country to get our deficit down, because he has got no policies."

At one point Mr Mitchell appeared to deny having sworn at police, shaking his head and apparently mouthing "I didn't, I didn't" as Mr Miliband said that people who swear at police should expect to be arrested.

In response, the Labour leader said: "He says from a sedentary position he didn't. Maybe he will tell us what he actually did say.

"Yet, according to the official police report - and I quote - a man claiming to be the Chief Whip called the police 'plebs', told them they should know their place and used other abusive language. Can the Prime Minister now tell us: did the Chief Whip use those words?"

A senior Labour source later said that Mr Mitchell's apparent denial made it all the more essential for it to be made clear exactly what the Chief Whip said.

"This could be very easily cleared up by Number 10 saying exactly what was said," the source said.

"If anything, this reinforces the need for them to be completely clear about what Mr Mitchell did say when he insulted the police."

Mr Mitchell arrived about 20 minutes early for Prime Minister's Questions and took his position at the end of the Government front bench, three spaces down from Mr Cameron and seated alongside Leader of the House Andrew Lansley.

He looked tight-lipped and tense throughout the exchanges, shaking his head and mouthing "no" as Mr Miliband accused him of calling the police "plebs" and "ranting and raving", then nodding as Mr Cameron defended him.

The silver-haired MP for Sutton Coldfield roused himself to join in Tory cheering as Mr Cameron accused the Labour leader of focusing on the Chief Whip because he had nothing to say about more serious issues.

At one point a Tory heckler told Mr Miliband to talk about "real issues". The Labour leader responded: "I think it is a real issue, abusing police officers.

"Just because a police officer has better manners than the Chief Whip, it doesn't mean he should keep his job.

"If a yob in a city centre on a Saturday night abused a police officer, ranting and raving, the chances are they would be arrested and placed in the back of a police van, and rightly so. And the Prime Minister would be the first in the queue to say it was right."

Mr Miliband added: "Here's the most extraordinary thing. They say that I practise class war, and they go around calling people 'plebs'. Can you believe it?

"I have to say it's good to see the Cabinet in their place supporting him in public, but in the newspapers, what are they saying in private? He's completely undermined. his position is untenable. In other words, he's toast. That's the reality.

"Here's the truth about this Government. Whilst everybody else loses their jobs, the Chief Whip keeps his. If you're a millionaire you get a tax cut, if you're everybody else, you get a tax rise. They are totally out of touch. With this Government it's one rule for those at the top and another rule for everybody else."

Speaker John Bercow had to step in twice to demand calm from MPs, as loud barracking from the Tory side threatened to drown out Mr Miliband's questions.

But the chamber fell into a solemn and respectful silence once more when the exchanges about Mr Mitchell were immediately followed by a question about missing Welsh schoolgirl April Jones.

Mr Mitchell received a supportive slap on the arm from Tory minister Matthew Hancock as his 30-minute ordeal ended.

Mr Cameron accused Mr Miliband of wanting to "discuss these issues because he's got nothing serious to say about the country".

But the Labour leader replied that the abuse of police officers was a "real issue".

"Let me tell you the truth about this government: Whilst everybody else loses their jobs, the chief whip keeps his," he added.

He added: "They say that I practise class war and they go around calling people 'plebs'."

Mr Mitchell faces another stern test this evening when the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers gathers.

Some MPs question his ability to enforce discipline in the wake of the controversy.

But Cabinet minister Ken Clarke told BBC Radio 4's World at One the issue was being "taken out of all proportion", and blamed the Police Federation.

"The Police Federation are trying to remind us that they are a powerful trade union," he said. "Most people listening to this programme have at some time lost their temper, said something they should not, and had to apologise fairly abjectly afterward when they felt ashamed of themselves."

Asked if Mr Mitchell would still be chief whip in a year's time, the veteran frontbencher said: "Unless something else funny happens, yes of course he will.

"A rather belated witch hunt is now being run, built up largely because the Police Federation keep pushing it along - they have other scores with the Government at the moment and they are trying to put the fear of God into all of us about falling out with the Police Federation."

Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore also insisted that Mr Mitchell was staying in his post.

"I think we have seen an unfortunate series of events for which Andrew has apologised in the most profuse terms," he said.

"The Prime Minister dealt with this very early on and drew a line under it. I appreciate that there has been continued controversy around it, but I believe it is very clear Andrew is staying in his job.

"We will work very closely with him in our part of the coalition and get on with delivering the Government's agenda."

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said later that Mr Mitchell had "reignited" the row over his outburst by denying swearing at police.

In a series of messages on Twitter, Mr Fabricant said: "Several MPs have confirmed to me that AM did indeed say at PMQs 'I didn't swear' (at the police). This puts a whole new light on the issue.

"Oh dear. Labour were never going to let the story go away, but now he has managed to reignite it himself. Self-ignition?"

Mr Mitchell has always made clear that he disputes the words attributed to him in press reports of the police record of the incident, but has not explained precisely what he does recall saying.

In his only public statement since the incident, he said: "While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own