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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.