"Plebgate" returns as police officer is arrested

Constable arrested on suspicion of leaking information about the incident to the press.

"You haven't heard the last of this," Andrew Mitchell told Downing Street police officers as he concluded his rant at them. It looks like the former chief whip was right. Last night it emerged that an officer with the diplomatic protection group has been arrested on suspicion of misconduct over the leak of information about the incident to the press. The constable was bailed on Sunday after his arrest the previous day and has been suspended from duty.

The Met has been investigating for months how the Sun and the Daily Telegraph obtained the official police log of the incident, which suggested that Mitchell referred to the police as "plebs". In his resignation letter, Mitchell wrote that "The offending comment and the reason for my apology to the police was my parting remark 'I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us'. It was obviously wrong of me to use such bad language and I am very sorry about it and grateful to the police officer for accepting my apology."

Scotland Yard said that the officer arrested was not on duty at the time of the incident and that it had found "no evidence to suggest any of the officers involved in the incident were involved in the unauthorised release of information". John Tully, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, commented that it was "disappointing to say the least to see the Met take this action."

The arrest has already revived the row over what Mitchell did or did not say. He told the BBC this morning: "I reiterate once again that the contents of the alleged police logbook are false." In which case, one might ask, will or should action be taken against the officer accused of falsifying the record? And if he did not, will Mitchell ever be forced to account for what he did say?

Former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who resigned in October after swearing at Downing Street police officers. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.