Andrew Mitchell's statement resolves nothing

Chief whip continues to deny that he called the police "plebs".

If Andrew Mitchell's statement outside Downing Street this morning was intended to draw a line under the controversy surrounding his altercation with the police, it was a resounding failure. The Chief Whip began badly, stating that it had been "a long and extremely frustrating day", before rather negating that point by conceding: "not that that's any excuse at all" (why mention it then?)

He added: "I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there."

Then asked whether he called the police "plebs", he again denied doing so.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not say the words attributed to me.

But with today's Sun reporting that an official police record of the incident confirms that he did use the word "plebs", the Chief Whip's denials are only likely to invite further scrutiny of the conflicting accounts. Either he did use the word "plebs", in which case he is unfit for office, or he didn't, in which case the police are lying and, as Trevor Kavanagh puts it, he should he sue them "for defamation".

What Mitchell has still not told us is what he did say. Earlier this morning, Nick Clegg rightly called on him to "explain his side of the story" but that is precisely what he failed to do.

Minutes after Mitchell's statement, Clegg was interviewed on the Today programme. He said that Mitchell had "quite rightly" apologised, before adding that he was not going to give a "running textual analysis". Others, however, will continue to do so.

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell again denied that he referred to the police as "plebs". 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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