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.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.