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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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