Andrew Mitchell denies calling police "fucking plebs"

Chief whip reportedly launched into a class-based rant against officers.

It seems that chief whip Andrew Mitchell, the man charged with keeping recalcitrant backbenchers in check, has his own behavioural problems to address. After police prevented him from leaving the main Downing Street gate on his bike on Wednesday, the cabinet minister reportedly launched into a class-based rant against the officers. According to today's Sun, he demanded: "Open this gate, I’m the Chief Whip. I’m telling you — I’m the Chief Whip and I’m coming through these gates." When officers refused to do so, he allegedly responded:

Best you learn your fucking place. You don’t run this fucking government.

You’re fucking plebs.

It's the alleged use of the pejorative "plebs", denoting those of a lower order, that is toxic for Mitchell. Like Mitt Romney's attack on "the 47%", it's brilliantly designed to confirm the view that this is a government of the wealthy for the wealthy.

For the record, Mitchell, a former merchant banker, was educated at the private Rugby School (where, as a feared prefect, he acquired the nickname "Thrasher") and is reportedly worth £2.2m, owning several properties including a house in the French ski resort of Val d'Isere.

Mitchell has already apologised for the altercation, although he denied using the language ascribed to him by the Sun. In a statement he said: "On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before.

"I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. 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.

"I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved."

Number 10 is aware of the incident and has accepted Mitchell's apology. "The prime minister believes the police should always be treated with respect," a spokeswoman said.

Quite. And one suspects that it will take more than an apology from Mitchell to erase the damage.

Conservative Andrew Mitchell, who was made chief whip in the recent cabinet reshuffle. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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