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: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.