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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Europe's elections show why liberals should avoid fatalism

France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

Humans are unavoidably pattern-seeking creatures. We give meaning to disparate events where little or none may exist. So it is with Brexit and Donald Trump. The proximity of these results led to declarations of liberalism's demise. After decades of progress, the tide was said to have unavoidably turned.

Every election is now treated as another round in the great duel between libralism and populism. In the Netherlands, the perennial nativist Geert Wilders was gifted outsize attention in the belief that he could surf the Brexit-Trump wave to victory. Yet far from triumphing, the Freedom Party finished a distant second, increasing its seats total to 20 (four fewer than in 2010). Wilders' defeat was always more likely than not (and he would have been unable to form a government) but global events gifted him an aura of invincibility.

In France, for several years, Marine Le Pen has been likely to make the final round of the next presidential election. But it was only after Brexit and Trump's election that she was widely seen as a potential victor. As in 2002, the front républicain is likely to defeat the Front National. The winner, however, will not be a conservative but a liberal. According to the post-Trump narrative, Emmanuel Macron's rise should have been impossible. But his surge (albeit one that has left him tied with Le Pen in the first round) suggests liberalism is in better health than suggested.

In Germany, where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland was said to be remorselessly advancing, politics is returning to traditional two-party combat. The election of Martin Schulz has transformed the SPD's fortunes to the point where it could form the next government. As some Labour MPs resign themselves to perpeutal opposition, they could be forgiven for noting what a difference a new leader can make.

2016 will be forever remembered as the year of Brexit and Trump. Yet both events could conceivably have happened in liberalism's supposed heyday. The UK has long been the EU's most reluctant member and, having not joined the euro or the Schengen Zone, already had one foot outside the door. In the US, the conditions for the election of a Trump-like figure have been in place for decades. For all this, Leave only narrowly won and Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than her opponent. Liberalism is neither as weak as it is now thought, nor as strong as it was once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.