Call for UK chief whip to be sacked over verbal abuse

Sat, Sep 22, 2012, 01:00

BRITISH PRIME minister David Cameron last night continued to reject calls for the sacking of his chief whip Andrew Mitchell over his use of foul and abusive language to armed policemen guarding No 10 Downing Street.

Mr Mitchell lost his temper on Wednesday evening when police told him to wheel his bicycle out through the Downing Street pedestrian gate, rather than through the wider, slower-to-open gates used by vehicles. There are different versions of the language used by Mr Mitchell. However, the Sun reported that he had shouted at police, telling them they were “f***ing plebs” and “morons, who should know their place”.

Mr Mitchell, who was international development secretary of state until this month’s reshuffle, disputes the quotations, but one officer concerned told the police federation the newspaper’s account was accurate.

The controversy has deeply worried Conservatives, reinforcing the emerging political narrative that the cabinet is occupied by wealthy, privately educated men who are remote from the struggles of ordinary people.

Mr Mitchell is a key Cameron loyalist, who was urged by the prime minister to leave international development and become government chief whip because it is closer to the centre of power.

Downing Street’s fury with its new chief whip was evident, with Mr Cameron saying, through pursed lips: “What Andrew Mitchell said and what he did was not appropriate. It was wrong. It is right that he has apologised.”

Police federations – already angry with the government over spending cuts and pension changes – seized on Mr Mitchell’s behaviour. “He’s unfit to hold the office he holds and should resign,” said John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation.

Earlier in his career as an MP, Mr Mitchell was known for his hard-right image.

MPs and House of Commons staff say he has “Flashmanesque” bursts of temper – a trait that led some Tory MPs to question Mr Cameron’s wisdom in appointing him as chief whip.

Former Conservative minister Norman Tebbit, who acknowledged his own short temper, said Mr Mitchell had been “extraordinarily stupid” and that the incident showed he has “got an awful lot of pressure on him”.

The embattled politician was himself not to be seen, having cancelled an engagement in Reading. In a brief statement, he acknowledged that he had not spoken to the police “with the respect that they deserve”.

Labour called for the police incident report. “The idea that a cabinet minister could behave like this towards police officers doing their job is an utter disgrace,” former Labour minister Yvette Cooper said.