Mitchell's departure leaves Cameron looking weak

Rather than sacking his Chief Whip, the Prime Minister prevaricated.

The decision of Andrew Mitchell to resign was undoubtedly the right one. Having lost the respect of many of his Tory colleagues, he entirely lacked the authority necessary to perform his duties as Chief Whip. As David Davis astutely observed two weeks ago, "What does a Chief Whip have at his fingertips to deploy normally? Well, a mixture of charm, rewards, appeals to loyalty — all of those are diluted at the moment." It would also have suited Labour for him to remain in place (despite the party's public calls for his resignation, it privately hoped he would survive), another consideration which will have influenced Mitchell's decision.

But his departure (announced on Friday evening in classic Westminster style) leaves David Cameron notably weakened. The Prime Minister could have demonstrated strength by sacking Mitchell and asserting that "there is no place in a compassionate, one nation party for for those who behave disrespectfully to the police." Instead, he prevaricated, neither sacking Mitchell nor backing him. As I noted after PMQs on Wednesday, Cameron "couldn't summon a word in defence of his Chief Whip". Having shown similarly poor judgement in the cases of Lord Ashcroft and Andy Coulson, it is remarkable that the PM failed to learn from past experience to kill the story at birth.

David Cameron accepted Andrew Mitchell's resignation as Chief Whip today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.