The Mitchell saga is becoming ever more toxic for the Tories

If the Chief Whip survives, so will the stench his behaviour left.

According to Alastair Campbell's dictum, if a scandal involving a cabinet minister lasts for longer than ten days then their career is over. We are now entering the fifth day of the Andrew Mitchell saga and the headlines are some of the grimmest yet for the chief whip. The Telegraph has got its hands on the full police log of the incident, which supports the Sun's claim that he referred to the police as "fucking plebs". It reads:

There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: "Best you learn your f------ place...you don’t run this f------ government...You’re f------ plebs." The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I can not say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.

The log goes on to allege that Mitchell ended his rant with the words, "you haven’t heard the last of this", which now suggests the Chief Whip has a hitherto unappreciated sense of irony. The Sun itself, which shows every sign of wanting to claim Mitchell's scalp, leads on the news that his "long and frustrating day" included an agreeable lunch at Westminster's Cinnamon Club and a night at the Carlton Club in St James’s (Mitchell's intended destination at the time of the incident).

There's still little reason to believe that Mitchell's job is in danger. As the fortunes of Jeremy Hunt (a falsification of Campbell's rule) display, David Cameron is prepared to stand by his man in defiance of overwhelming pressure to do the reverse. And the decision of the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, and the Metropolitan police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to rule out a full investigation offers Mitchell the breathing space he needs. In a letter to Yvette Cooper, Heywood wrote: "In the light of the apology given, and also the fact that the officer concerned has accepted the apology and does not wish to pursue the matter further, the Metropolitan police commissioner reiterated that no further action would be taken. Given these circumstances, neither the prime minister nor I see any purpose in a further investigation."

In addition, Danny Alexander, who one might have expected to seek political capital from the incident (as some of his Lib Dem colleagues, most notably Vince Cable, have), echoed David Cameron this morning and declared that "we should draw a line under the matter and move on". The Cabinet, it appears, is closing ranks.

Yet the prominence the media continues to attach to the story means that it is becoming increasingly toxic for the Tories. A YouGov poll for the Sun found that 69% of people believe Mitchell is lying and did refer to the police as "plebs", while just eight per cent believe his account (few have no opinion, suggesting that this is not just a "bubble story"). If Mitchell survives, so will the stench his behaviour left.

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's altercation with the police dominates the front pages again today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.