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25 September 2012

The Mitchell saga is becoming ever more toxic for the Tories

If the Chief Whip survives, so will the stench his behaviour left.

By George Eaton

According to Alastair Campbell’s dictum, if a scandal involving a cabinet minister lasts for longer than ten days then their career is over. We are now entering the fifth day of the Andrew Mitchell saga and the headlines are some of the grimmest yet for the chief whip. The Telegraph has got its hands on the full police log of the incident, which supports the Sun’s claim that he referred to the police as “fucking plebs”. It reads:

There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I can not say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.

The log goes on to allege that Mitchell ended his rant with the words, “you haven’t heard the last of this”, which now suggests the Chief Whip has a hitherto unappreciated sense of irony. The Sun itself, which shows every sign of wanting to claim Mitchell’s scalp, leads on the news that his “long and frustrating day” included an agreeable lunch at Westminster’s Cinnamon Club and a night at the Carlton Club in St James’s (Mitchell’s intended destination at the time of the incident).

There’s still little reason to believe that Mitchell’s job is in danger. As the fortunes of Jeremy Hunt (a falsification of Campbell’s rule) display, David Cameron is prepared to stand by his man in defiance of overwhelming pressure to do the reverse. And the decision of the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, and the Metropolitan police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to rule out a full investigation offers Mitchell the breathing space he needs. In a letter to Yvette Cooper, Heywood wrote: “In the light of the apology given, and also the fact that the officer concerned has accepted the apology and does not wish to pursue the matter further, the Metropolitan police commissioner reiterated that no further action would be taken. Given these circumstances, neither the prime minister nor I see any purpose in a further investigation.”

In addition, Danny Alexander, who one might have expected to seek political capital from the incident (as some of his Lib Dem colleagues, most notably Vince Cable, have), echoed David Cameron this morning and declared that “we should draw a line under the matter and move on”. The Cabinet, it appears, is closing ranks.

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Yet the prominence the media continues to attach to the story means that it is becoming increasingly toxic for the Tories. A YouGov poll for the Sun found that 69% of people believe Mitchell is lying and did refer to the police as “plebs”, while just eight per cent believe his account (few have no opinion, suggesting that this is not just a “bubble story”). If Mitchell survives, so will the stench his behaviour left.