Chief whip to keep job despite pressure over 'pleb' insult to police
EMBATTLED CONSERVATIVE chief whip Andrew Mitchell is to stay in place despite insulting police guarding No 10 Downing Street last week, but an investigation is to be launched by the Metropolitan Police into how details of the incident emerged into the public arena.
In another attempt to end the controversy, Mr Mitchell publicly apologised yesterday as he entered Downing Street for work, but he continues to deny the accusation that he called officers “f***ing plebs”, even though notes made by police at the time declare otherwise.
“I didn’t show the police the amount of respect I should have done. We should all respect the police. They do an incredibly difficult job.
“I have apologised to the police. I have apologised to the police officer involved on the gate and he’s accepted my apology. I hope very much we can draw a line under it there,” Mr Mitchell said.
On Monday The Sun reported that Mr Mitchell, who had been told to take his bicycle out through a pedestrian gate rather than through the wider gate guarding Downing Street, had railed: “Best you learn your f***ing place. You don’t run this f***ing government. You’re f***ing plebs.”
The controversy, which has sparked ranges of T-shirts, radio debates and torrents of comments on social media websites, is particularly damaging for the Conservatives, since it reinforces opinions that Conservative ministers regard staff and voters as social inferiors.
Prime minister David Cameron’s spokesman, clearly drawing comfort from the fact that no audio or videotape of the confrontation seems to exist, said: “There are a range of different accounts and allegations in the newspapers. The fact remains that Andrew Mitchell has apologised for his behaviour.”
Later, cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, the UK’s most powerful civil servant, said no further action would be taken and that the police officer who was directly abused by Mr Mitchell did not want to take the issue further. However, Mr Mitchell’s conduct had “fallen a long way short”.
Liberal Democrats business secretary Vince Cable worked in a joke about the row during his speech to the Lib Dem conference, referring to Mr Cameron and Boris Johnson’s school days at Eton, before adding: “I’ve been told that jokes about social class are not good for the unity of the coalition. But as a mere pleb, I couldn’t resist it.”
Last night, Labour demanded an investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards: “If No 10 don’t believe the testimony of a number of Downing Street police officers, that’s very serious.
“Alternatively, if the chief whip isn’t telling the prime minister the full story, that’s equally as serious,” said MP David Hanson.
Privately, Conservative ministers are furious with police representative bodies, such as the Police Federation, which they believe are exploiting Mr Mitchell’s poor conduct in their battle to head off major reforms to police pensions, working hours and benefits.
The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, John Tully, denied the charge: “Clearly we’re in dispute with the government, there are draconian cuts to police budgets, effects on police pay and conditions and indeed pensions, but that runs across the public sector – the police service aren’t alone in that.”
Demanding an investigation to confirm the exact details of the exchanges, he said: “And we do definitely have a dispute with the government, but this is a different issue.
“This stands alone – it was an unacceptable display of behaviour by a senior member of the government.”