Andrew Mitchell refuses to deny talks on becoming the UK's next EU Commissioner

Former chief whip says there's a "very important job" to be done and confirms that he has met with David Cameron.

Andrew Mitchell has just been interviewed on The Sunday Politics, where he notably refused to deny reports that David Cameron has offered him the chance become the UK's next EU Commissioner in 2014. Whilst quipping that he wasn't going to do his "career planning" live on air, the former chief whip all but confirmed that he had discussed taking up the £250,000-a-year post with Cameron.

"I do see the Prime Minister from time to time but as I say, I'm not going to conduct my career planning today".

He added: "There's a very important job to be done in Europe to make sure that Europe changes in the interests of everyone in Europe but also in the interests of Britain, I don't deny that. But as I say, my central interest at the moment is to support my party in any way I can and to look after my constituents in Sutton Coldfield."

The offer was reportedly made by Cameron at a Chequers lunch for Mitchell last Sunday, a signal of the former chief whip's political rehabilitation. There is a strong feeling among Conservative MPs that Mitchell deserves to be compensated for his enforced resignation over "plebgate" after video evidence appeared to confirm his version of events. Initially it was assumed that this would take the form of a return to the cabinet but Mitchell is now viewed as the ideal candidate to replace Baroness Ashton as the UK's EU Commissioner when she finishes her term as EU foreign policy chief next year. One source tells the Mail on Sunday: "The PM believes Andrew is ideal for the job. He won considerable respect worldwide for his negotiating skills as Secretary of State for International Development, he knows about finance through his banking background, and his record in the Whips Office shows he is not scared to bash heads to get a result."

In an overt display of his interest in the position, Mitchell recently penned an article for the FT ("Europe needs Cameron's tough love"), supporting Cameron's proposed renegotiation of Britain's EU membership and floating proposals including a joint sitting of the UK and Polish parliaments and a joint UK-Dutch cabinet meeting.

Were Mitchell to take up the post, he would be required to resign as an MP, triggering a by-election in his Sutton Coldfield constituency. The Tories currently have a majority of 17,005 (33.6) per cent in the constituency, making it one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. But as Mike Smithson suggests, UKIP, which has a good chance of winning that year's EU elections, will hope to mount a strong challenge if the seat does indeed fall vacant.

Andrew Mitchell, the former government chief whip, leaves his home on January 21, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.