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.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left