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.

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David Cameron softens stance: UK to accept "thousands" more Syrian refugees

Days after saying "taking more and more" refugees isn't the solution, the Prime Minister announces that Britain will accept "thousands" more Syrian refugees.

David Cameron has announced that the UK will house "thousands" more Syrian refugees, in response to Europe's worsening refugee crisis.

He said:

"We have already accepted around 5,000 Syrians and we have introduced a specific resettlement scheme, alongside those we already have, to help those Syrian refugees particularly at risk.

"As I said earlier this week, we will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review.

"And given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, today I can announce that we will do more - providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees."

Days after reiterating the government's stance that "taking more and more" refugees won't help the situation, the Prime Minister appears to have softened his stance.

His latest assertion that Britain will act with "our head and our heart" by allowing more refugees into the country comes after photos of a drowned Syrian toddler intensified calls for the UK to show more compassion towards the record number of people desperately trying to reach Europe. In reaction to the photos, he commented that, "as a father I felt deeply moved".

But as the BBC's James Landale points out, this move doesn't represent a fundamental change in Cameron's position. While public and political pressure has forced the PM's hand to fulfil a moral obligation, he still doesn't believe opening the borders into Europe, or establishing quotas, would help. He also hasn't set a specific target for the number of refugees Britain will receive.

 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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