The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

RSS

Andrew Mitchell denies calling police "fucking plebs"

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

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

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.