"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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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