Mitchell: Act Two of Whitehall farce

  • 24 September 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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Andrew Mitchell
Andrew Mitchell has denied using foul and insulting language to an officer

We are in Act Two of the Whitehall farce "What The Chief Whip Said".

But we are no closer to discovering whether the accused is guilty or innocent of the central charge - using a four letter word to an officer of the law.

Not any four letter word, mind you, but the most politically toxic of them all. The P word. P**b.

Forgive me if I appear not to be taking this seriously.

I am but I am amused by the fact that the government Chief Whip can admit to repeatedly using the F word in front of the boys in blue but cannot dare admit to saying pleb - something which he continues to deny in private.

Andrew Mitchell and No 10 hoped that his on camera apology would draw a line under this story.

It has failed to do so since the Tories' coalition partners have failed to back the man who is the government's - and not just the Conservatives' - Chief Whip.

The new Lib Dem Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne said: "I think people want to know what was said... Explaining to the media what was not said, is not the same as explaining to the media what was said".

Former party leaders Menzies Campbell and Paddy Ashdown both believe that Mitchell now needs to spell out what he did and didn't say.

The current leader, Nick Clegg, is desperate that the story simply goes away so he has walked a tightrope by welcoming the fact that Mitchell has apologised and "been contrite" without giving him full backing.

As I write, Vince Cable is getting to his feet.

I am told that he will make a joke about the P word - the sort of ministerial indiscipline which the Chief Whip ought really to clamp down on.