In Review

Book of the week: Beyond a Fringe by Andrew Mitchell

The Conservative MP has written a ‘wonderfully funny’ memoir full of valuable insights into our political culture

Andrew Mitchell is the kind of Conservative who was “born to rule, or at least to have a jolly good go at it”, said Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. The son of the Tory politician David Mitchell, he progressed through a series of establishment institutions – prep school, public school, the Army, Cambridge, the City – on his way to becoming an MP in his early 30s.

Having served as a whip under John Major, he became David Cameron’s international development secretary in 2010 – and was promoted to chief whip in 2012. But then “disaster struck”: Mitchell was accused by a police officer of calling him a “pleb” during a row about bicycle access to Downing Street.

Although “plebgate” definitively halted Mitchell’s upward trajectory – it cost him his place in the Cabinet and led him to pay out around £2m in legal costs, after he unsuccessfully sued the newspaper that broke the story – it evidently didn’t entirely sap his sense of humour. For in Beyond a Fringe, he has written a “wonderfully funny” memoir full of valuable insights into our political culture.

“Plebgate” ensured that Mitchell’s name became synonymous with the worst kind of establishment entitlement, said Chris Mullin in The Spectator. There is, however, a “fundamental streak of decency” in the figure who emerges from these pages. He was a principled and conscientious international development secretary, committed to preserving the UK’s overseas aid budget. And more recently, he has “carved out a useful role on the backbenches as one of the few genuine internationalists in the upper reaches of the modern Conservative party”.

One ends his memoir with a strong sense of injustice that a “minor incident that lasted no more than 45 seconds” – and whose nature was strongly contested – should have “brought him to the edge of ruin”.

Although Mitchell doesn’t say it in so many words, said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer, “his account suggests that he came extremely close to being psychologically destroyed” by “plebgate”. As he was “flooded with hostile emails, including death threats” – and as reporters camped outside his house – he recalls not being able to sleep or eat, or, on some days, to get out of bed.

He seems to have emerged from his ordeal a wiser man – or a “reformed Establishment lackey”, as his book’s subtitle has it. Moving deftly “between the comedies and the tragedies of the political life”, this is an engaging work that shines an entertaining light on the workings of the British establishment.

Biteback 384pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99

Beyond a Fringe book cover
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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