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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.