Tories put pressure on Cameron to return Andrew Mitchell to government

David Davis and Michael Howard say that, if cleared, the former chief whip should be brought back.

Following last night's "plebgate" revelations, Andrew Mitchell's supporters have moved swiftly to demand that, if cleared, he is returned to government. On the Today programme, former Tory leader Michael Howard said that he was "appalled" by Mitchell's treatement and that he should be brought back "at the earliest possible opportunity". Given Howard's status as David Cameron's political patron, it will be hard for the Prime Minister to ignore his intervention. On the same programme, David Davis called for Mitchell, who ran his 2005 Conservative leadership campaign, to be returned to "high office", adding that he was a "fantastic international development secretary".

Vince Cable, however, sounded a cautionary note when he told Sky News that such talk was "premature". It should not be forgotten that Mitchell has admitted to swearing at the police ("I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us"), an act that Boris Johnson suggested should be an arrestable offence. At the time of the original incident, the Mayor commented: "If I read the papers correctly there was a proposal to arrest Mr Mitchell for what he said. That seems to be wholly commonsensical. The Public Order Act does allow for police officers' discretion in this matter. They have obviously decided not to go ahead with it. But it shows the gravity of this offence."

But Mitchell's supporters will contend that had he not been accused of referring to the police as "fucking plebs" (words he has consistently denied using), he would still be in his post. If the police investigation corroborates Mitchell's version of events, it will be hard for Cameron not to offer some recompense.

Former Conservative leadership candidate David Davis said Andrew Mitchell should be returned to "high office". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.