The Andrew Mitchell story is surely not that unique. He is hardly a household name in his own household. And if I ever appear on the excellent “Pointless Quiz” on BBC and chosse “Tory MPs Recognised By The Public”, I would nominate Andrew Mitchell……surely a “pointless answer”. Indeed yesterday I kept referring to him as DAVID Mitchell.
So ANDREW Mitchell. Chief Whip in the Con-Lib Coalition. Appointed three weeks ago. And in charge of keeping the names of Tory MPs out of the headlines.
But it seems to have gone to his head a bit.
He is a Man of the People. Well maybe he is……..and maybe he isnt. But he rides a bicycle about Westminster……..which is a Member of Parliament’s way of saying he is an ordinary bloke.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well those big gates at the end of Downing Street. On Wednesday evening, Mitchelll leaves his office at 12 Downing Street and the policemen on duty dont open the gates so that he can make a grand exit……showing the people in Whitehall that he is not just some press officer or whatever. He is the Government Chief Whip! The police tell him to take himself and his bike out thru the pedestrian exit. Like an ordinary bloke.
What happens next is in doubt. Mitchell has issued a grovelling apology saying that he did not treat the police officers with proper respect. He has spoken to the officer concerned. But words were exchanged….mostly it seems by Mitchell. Some words “plebs”, “Im the Chief Whip!!” and “f***ing morons” are alleged to have been spoken.
All from a Tory Government Minister. A few months ago Boris Johnson, Mayor of London made a speech in which he urged zero tolerance for people who swear at police officers. His Tory audience applauded. Of course it does not seem very likely that Mitchell will be arrested. Because Tories make laws for other people not for themselves.
Yet “Gate-gate” has the capacity to embarass the Government. And it takes a heart of stone not to laugh when an episode of “The Thick of It” is enacted in front of our very eyes.
Just before 8am this morning, there is breaking news……and it seems like some political correspondents have been early risers. Gary O’Donoghue and Joey Jones and others are there with camera crews. No doubt Government Press Officers have been briefing them. “Get to the Cabinet Office on Whitehall at 8am and Andrew Mitchell will make a statement”.
At 8am…….Mitchell arrives…..makes a fuzzy kinda statement/apology on the pavement and hurries into the Cabinet Office. A rainy looking morning in London. No sign of the bicycle…..and no sign of Mitchell walking to 12 Downing Street via those “gates”. Indeed the first time Mitchell goes thru those gates, it will be in the full glare of publicity.
Rightward leaning Lib Dems….in coalition with the Tories……..wish it would all go away. They must express a degree of righteous disgust……but it has to be limited. Leftward-leaning Lib Dems such as Vince Cable sieze the real mood of the Lib Dems (holding their annual conference this week) by joking at Mitchell’s expense.
Of course there are dimensions to this story. Mitchell insists he did not say “words attributed to me” but its unclear if this means none, some or all of the words…….”f**king morons”, “plebs”. The Police made nots at the time and somehow these notes or what purports to be these notes have been published by The Sun newspaper.
Will he stay or will he go? To some extent it is no longer relevant. A Government Minister who actually releases a more revealing account of that altercation is unlikely to survive the embarassment….as wahtever words were used are unlikely to show Mitchell in a good light. And denying the allegations without further explanation runs the risk of effectively calling the Police liars. And as always the factor that Labour must bear in mind is that a damaged Government Minister is more useful to them than a “clean skin”.
Which brings me to Nelson McCausland, himself the subject of a vote of no confidence in Stormont today. Stormont is of course a Grand Coalition of five parties……..and the DUP and Sinn Féin are at its heart. Alliance is more central to it than SDLP and UUP.
Yet heres the irony. The SDLP arrange the vote of no-confidence. But its as much about embarassing Sinn Féin as it is about embarassing McCausland, who is shameless. And its even more about embarassing those highly principled……but only occasionally………Alliance people.