Andrew Mitchell sat stony-faced in the Commons today as he endured both attacks from Ed MIliband and a dressing down from David Cameron.
Figures published today showed that unemployment had fallen by 50,000 between June and August, blunting any prime minister's questions attack Miliband may have lined up on the economy.
However the Labour leader quickly jumped from unemployment numbers in general, to the number of police officers who had lost their jobs and onto Mitchell’s alleged sweary “pleb” rant at the gates of Downing Street.
“They’re not just breaking their promises it’s their conduct as well,” he said.
Sitting uncomfortably on the government front bench, close to the prime minister but far enough away so as not to make it into the television shot, Mitchell stared back at Miliband as the Labour leader launched his attack, occasionally shaking his head from side to side.
And the chief whip risked re-igniting the row by allegedly muttering, “I didn’t”, when Miliband accused him of swearing at the police. Mitchell has always denied using the word “plebs”, but had previously admitted swearing.
Miliband interrupted his flow to shoot back: “He says he didn’t, maybe he will tell us what he actually did say?
“According to the official police report,” Miliband said. “A man claiming to be the chief whip, called the police ‘plebs’ told them they should ‘know their place’ and used other abusive language, can the prime minister tell us, did the chief whip use those words?”
With Mitchell sat close by, Cameron said: “What the chief whip did and what the chief whip said were wrong. That’s why its important the chief whip apologized. That apology has been accepted by the officer concerned, it has been accepted by head of Met police.”
Miliband said: “If a yob in a city centre abused a police officer, ranting and raving, the chances are they would be placed in the back of a police van and rightly so.”
Many Tory MPs feel Mitchell’s authority, whose job is to discipline backbenchers, has vanished. And Miliband said members of the cabinet also thought he should be fired.
“In other words, he’s toast,” Miliband said. “They say I practice class war and they go around calling people plebs.”
“While everyone else loses their job the chief whip keeps his. While it’s a night in the cell for the yob it’s a night in the Carlton Club for the chief whip.”
Mitchell’s alleged use of the word “plebs” is seen as toxic for the Tory party by many, as David Cameron tries to shake-off the perception that he and his inner-circle as “posh boys” out of touch with the average voter.
Labour has called for Mitchell to be fired. But his continued presence in the cabinet gives them a easy stick to beat the government with, and the Opposition may prefer him to stay exactly where he is.
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