Tory MPs – and the occasional Lib Dem, too – were flocking around Andrew Mitchell in the Commons yesterday to show their support for the former chief whip. He is enjoying a new wave of support in his party, rather than languishing as persona non grata on the backbench.
But the picture is still not clear. Mitchell himself admitted that he swore during the exchange with the police: less politically toxic, perhaps, than ‘pleb’, but swearing at a police officer is still something that can land you with a fine in a Magistrates Court. And there are two other police officers who claim the chief whip said both words.
Another person who has not emerged unscathed from this row is Sir Jeremy Heywood. He reviewed the CCTV footage himself, but seems not to have noticed that there were no witnesses. Mark Reckless rounded on Heywood yesterday, tweeting that the ‘Mitchell saga owes much to another monumentally useless performance by Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. Time for the PM to take charge’.
The chief whip was not discussed in great detail at last night’s 1922 committee, beyond one MP saying the party needed to learn a lesson from what had happened. Remember that it was the 1922 meeting where a number of backbenchers expressed concerns about Mitchell that contributed to his decision to resign. Back then, senior MPs were furious with those from the new intake who ‘didn’t have a real perspective on what a proper problem for the party is’, as one long-serving MP told me at the time. The next time one of their number is under threat, Tory MPs may round on those who speak out against them more forcefully.