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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.