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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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.