Taken in isolation, Andrew Mitchell’s outburst at a policeman in Downing Street – while lamentable – did not appear sufficient to warrant his resignation.
But the subsequent attempts by the former Chief Whip (who has now resigned) to save himself embarrassment made his position untenable. The on-going dispute, which has further complicated the Government’s already strained relations with Britain’s police, has left Mr Mitchell without the authority to fulfil his parliamentary duties.
The episode has highlighted once again David Cameron’s unwillingness to grasp the nettle at key points. His loyalty to those who fall out of line may be commendable, but it clouds his ability to take difficult decisions. The debacle over Mr Mitchell’s poor behaviour should have been dealt with some time ago, rather than being allowed to rumble on, fuelling accusations that the Government is out of touch.
For a Prime Minister who has set so much store by the inclusivity of the Big Society, such dilatoriness is at best counter-productive, at worst further evidence that he, too, is semi-detached. That Mr Mitchell has now resigned is to be welcomed. It should not have taken so long.
Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, one row ends, and another immediately begins. This time, it is the Chancellor who appears to feel himself entitled to special treatment, sitting in a First Class train carriage without the appropriate ticket. George Osborne may be Chancellor, but he must obey the rules, just like the rest of us.