Lord Tebbit blasts 'dog of a coalition Government'
Sunday 21 October 2012
David Cameron faced strong criticism from Conservative grandee Lord Tebbit today in the aftermath of Andrew Mitchell's resignation as chief whip.
After the blow of finally losing Mr Mitchell having previously backed him to stay, the Prime Minister was said to have allowed "this dog of a coalition Government" to look incompetent.
Lord Tebbit's criticism came amid reports that Mr Mitchell decided to quit after younger Tory MPs from the 2010 intake made clear their hostility when parliament returned this week.
Writing in The Observer, Lord Tebbit - a Cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher's government - said: "This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it.
"It has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs. Past governments have had far more real Tory toffs: prime ministers Alec Douglas-Home and Harold Macmillan, or even in Thatcher's day, Whitelaw, Soames, Hailsham, Carrington, Gowrie, Joseph, Avon, Trenchard and plenty more, without incurring similar abuse."
He added: "The abiding sin of the government is not that some ministers are rich, but that it seems unable to manage its affairs competently."
Mr Mitchell finally fell on his sword last night after admitting that the row over his confrontation with Downing Street police made his position untenable.
After weeks of criticism and speculation over his future, Mr Mitchell said it was not fair to put his colleagues and family through such "damaging" stories any longer.
He insisted in a letter to the Prime Minister that he had not referred to an officer on the gate in Downing Street as either a "pleb" or a "moron" but acknowledged delivering, after being told he could not ride his bike through the main gates, the parting line: "I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us."
He was swiftly replaced as chief whip by Sir George Young last night.
At a union rally in Hyde Park today, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the Government remained on the wrong path despite Mr Mitchell's resignation.
"Andrew Mitchell may finally have resigned, but the culture of two nations runs right across this government.
"They cut taxes for millionaires, and raise taxes for ordinary families. They leave young people out of work while the bonuses at the banks carry on.
"They even have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who tries to travel first class on a standard class ticket.
"It's one rule for those at the top and another rule for everybody else: everybody like you who plays their part and does the right thing."
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Mitchell said: "I have made clear to you - and I give you my categorical assurance again - that I did not, never have, and never would call a police officer a 'pleb' or a 'moron' or used any of the other pejorative descriptions attributed to me.
"The offending comment and the reason for my apology to the police was my parting remark 'I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us'. It was obviously wrong of me to use such bad language and I am very sorry about it and grateful to the police officer for accepting my apology."
Accepting his resignation, Mr Cameron said he was "sorry" to receive Mr Mitchell's letter but added: "I understand why you have reached the conclusion that you have, and why you have decided to resign from the Government.
"I regret that this has become necessary, and am very grateful for all you have done, both in Government and in Opposition - as well as for the kind words in your letter."
Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries said it was a "huge mistake" for Mr Cameron to replace one public school chief whip with another.
She said she was "sad" that Mr Mitchell had been forced to resign and that she had "great respect" for Sir George.
But, writing in the Mail on Sunday, she went on: "It is a huge mistake for Cameron to have replaced Rugby School-educated Mitchell with Old Etonian Sir George.
"For a man whose only job was in PR, it displays crass party mismanagement by Cameron."
Ms Dorries, a long-standing critic of Mr Cameron, said the current Tory leadership was not doing enough for "meritocracy" and "aspiration".
"It sends out the message that to strive is pointless, because when it comes down to it, those who can succeed are the already wealthy and well-connected. That to be someone in politics, you first need to have been born into the right circle of families and to be somebody's friend at school."
Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that the difficult stories of the past week - also including the row over Chancellor George Osborne's first-class train upgrade - would not influence voters.
"It's always the case that there are weeks when the headlines are populated by stories that are of interest to the Westminster village and contain an element of human drama, but which for most people are just part of the froth of political life and not central to the concerns which will determine how they vote or how they live their lives," he told Sky News.
He defended Mr Cameron's decision to support Mr Mitchell, claiming there were many examples of ministers who have toughed out crises and gone on to perform well in governments.
"The Prime Minister, having made his decision, having recognised that Andrew had done an outstanding job as International Development Secretary, felt that he could continue to do a very good job as Chief Whip and bring to the party some of the knowledge and skill he had deployed in a different ministerial role," he said.
On Mr Mitchell's decision to quit, he added: "So much of it depends on inter-personal relations and Andrew came to a judgment that his management of inter-personal relations, the glue that binds the party together, was compromised by the way that this story had developed."
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