Miliband pounces, backbenchers despair - but Mitchell survives for another day
Senior Tory MPs admit that he has been seriously weakened by Downing Street outburst
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 18 October 2012
Andrew Mitchell is clinging to his job as Government Chief Whip tonight even though some Conservative MPs called for him to quit over his outburst at police guarding the gates of Downing Street.
At a private meeting of Tory MPs at Westminster, four said he should quit now and others admitted they initially felt he should go over his remarks but now believed it was time to “move on” to prevent further damage being inflicted on their party.
Mr Mitchell was not present during the highly unusual discussion about his future at the weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee. George Osborne, the Chancellor and main speaker, was left kicking his heels in a Commons corridor for 30 minutes while the debate took place.
Afterwards, Tory sources insisted a majority of the 19 or 20 speakers wanted the Chief Whip to remain in his post and that the mood was that the party needed to “move on” to avoid “a spectacular own goal.” But one senior figure admitted Mr Mitchell had been weakened by the affair, saying: “He needs to rebuild his relationships with colleagues.”
Some backbenchers believe will be very difficult for him to have the authority to impose discipline on them. One told The Independent Mr Mitchell was “effectively castrated.”
Amid a flurry of speculation about Mr Mitchell’s future, John Randall, the deputy Tory Chief Whip, had to deny reports that he would resign if his boss did not.
David Cameron hopes last night’s meeting will finally draw a line under the incident last month in which police claimed Mr Mitchell swore at them and called them “plebs” when they refused to let him ride his bicycle through the Downing Street gates. But some Tory loyalists admitted the ending was “messy”.
Earlier Mr Mitchell looked uncomfortable as his outburst dominated Prime Minister’s Questions. When Ed Miliband raised the incident, the Chief Whip, sitting alongside Mr Cameron on the government front bench, appeared to say: “I didn’t swear” [at the police]. Michael Fabricant, a former Tory whip who is now a party vice-chairman, said Mr Mitchell had “reignited” the row by giving a different version of events. Previously, the Chief Whip had said he did not use the words attributed to him.
Mr Miliband told the Commons that Mr Mitchell 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.”
The Labour leader said it showed the Government was “totally out of touch” and there was “one rule for those at the top and another for everybody else”. He added: “They [the Tories] say that I practise class war and they go around calling people plebs. Here is the truth about this Government: while everybody else loses their jobs, the Chief Whip keeps his.”
Mr Cameron admitted that Mr Mitchell had been wrong but insisted that his apology had been accepted by the Metropolitan Police and the officers concerned. He accused Mr Miliband of hiding behind the affair because he did not want to talk about big issues such as the economy and the deficit, on which had “no policies.”
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