Andrew Mitchell spent the whole of Home Office questions on the front bench, nodding sagely as both Damian Green and Theresa May were repeatedly asked to condemn his behaviour outside the Downing Street gates, which they repeatedly refused to do. He was joined in his nodding routine by Andrew Lansley, who knows a little about being hauled over coals by the opposition himself.
Throughout the session, there was a low rumble of barracking from the benches. When the first question about the chief whip came from Catherine McKinnell – who asked what the impact was ‘of a cabinet member verbally abusing a police officer at a time of record frontline cuts to police officers up and down the country’ – one Labour MP shouted ‘get the whips out!’ Shadow Home Office Minister Chris Bryant continued sledging throughout other questions on metal theft and hate crime, shouting ‘what did he say?’ while pointing at Mitchell. When James Brokenshire told the chamber that ‘we have the greatest police force in the world’, Mitchell nodded solemnly.
Policing Minister Damian Green responded to the first question. He said:
‘Mr Mitchell has apologised to the officer concerned. The officer concerned has accepted that apology and that I think for most people would be the end of it.’
MPs opposite Green didn’t agree, and roared to show their displeasure. Yvette Cooper used her slot to throw back some remarks the Home Secretary had made to the Police Federation last year, in which Theresa May had said ‘you put up with abuse and worse, you do so to keep us free’. Now it was Mitchell’s turn to roar as May defended him. She repeated her colleague’s assertion that ‘the police are not taking the matter any further, and that is an end to it’.
Except it’s not the end so far as Labour or the media (who gathered in remarkable numbers to cover these departmental questions this afternoon) are concerned. Simon Danczuk this afternoon tabled a motion which will appear on tomorrow’s order paper, calling for Mitchell’s pay to be docked in line with the fine that someone found guilty of swearing at a police officer would be forced to pay: £1,000.
The next step for this motion is for the person in charge of government business to choose whether to select it for debate. That person is Andrew Mitchell, so it’s unlikely we’ll hear Danczuk proposing the motion in the chamber in the next few days unless the chief whip – whose nickname is ‘Thrasher’, after all – fancies a bit of self-flagellation. But Labour sources are keen to stress how serious they are about this matter: it may be that the party chooses to use an opposition day debate to debate the motion instead.
It’s interesting that Labour is now homing in on the allegation that Mitchell swore at the police officer, rather than called him a ‘pleb’. Two weeks ago at their party’s conference, the focus was very much on the latter and what it said about how the government views ordinary people.Tags: Andrew Mitchell, Police, UK politics