Gategate: Andrew Mitchell fails to deny calling police ‘plebs’
Chief Whip’s statement to the press falls well short of the denial expected. This could run and run
ANDREW MITCHELL has poured fuel onto the fire of ‘gategate’ by giving a statement to the press that fell well short of the expected denial that he used the devastating put-down “f***ing plebs” to the police.
Talking to the press outside the gates of Downing Street, through which Mitchell was forced to wheel his bicycle like a normal pleb last Wednesday evening by the police guards he had allegedly insulted, the Chief Whip reiterated his previous statement that “I did not use the words attributed to me".
He said he had "apologised to the police officer involved" and wanted to "draw a line" under the matter.
But far from drawing a line under the affair, Mitchell has made things worse. It has not been lost on anyone in the Westminster village that when Mitchell appeared on camera he studiously avoided a flat-out denial that he used the p-word.
The Chief Whip will now be hounded by the press to say, on camera, that he did not call the police “plebs”.
John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has already obliged the media by demanding an inquiry to establish who is telling the truth.
"It is not the words - police officers are quite thick skinned - what infuriates me here is that a minister is saying police officers are liars... we need to establish what happened," he said.
Meanwhile, friends of Iain Duncan Smith, the social security secretary, are rubbing their hands with glee at the roasting Mitchell has received over ‘gategate’.
One minister who is a close ally of IDS has told the Mole: "It couldn't happen to a nicer man... ha ha ha."
The reason for their barely concealed glee at Mitchell's discomfiture is that they hold Mitchell responsible for plotting IDS's downfall when he was briefly the leader of the Conservative party in 2002.
Under Duncan Smith, Mitchell had been cold-shouldered and given no shadow ministerial role or party appointment. Mitchell immediately benefited from the palace coup in early 2003 and was immediately appointed by IDS's successor Michael Howard as a shadow treasury minister and in 2004 became shadow home office minister responsible for the police.
Mitchell's job has been on the line over claims by the police that he treated them to a sweary outburst for failing to open the gates of Downing Street for his bike. “Best you learn your f***ing place. You don't run this f***ing government,” he is alleged to have shouted.
The most toxic charge by the police, however, is that he used the p-word - calling them "f***ing plebs" - confirming the view of many voters that David Cameron's Cabinet is full of arrogant, out-of-touch public school boy twerps.
The Sun, which broke the story, is this morning keeping up the pressure on Mitchell to go, reporting that they have seen the official report on the incident by one of the Downing Street police officers, confirming the allegations against the Chief Whip.
Mitchell, who went into hiding to weather the storm, emerged from the shadows to brief his friend at The Sunday Telegraph, Matthew D'Ancona, on his side of the story.
D'Ancona also played a role in bringing about IDS's demise by encouraging the paper's publication of damaging allegations against the then-leader. He duly produced an apologia for Mitchell: he HAD sworn but had not uttered the p-word.
But far more effective in throwing the media pack off Mitchell's scent has been Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's list of potty tax plans for squeezing the middle classes - including BBC presenters - at his party's annual conference in Brighton.
Mitchell is now likely to survive gategate, but his position as chief whip has been irretrievably damaged by it. 'Thrasher' - as he was known at Rugby school - was brought in by Cameron to put some stick about after the Tory rebellion on Europe, including friends of IDS.
If Mitchell tries to order Tory MPs to toe the Cameron line, before another revolt over Europe, he is likely to be greeted with his own words: "You don't run this f***ing government. You're a f***ing pleb." Especially from friends of IDS.