Determined to keep the Andrew Mitchell story alive for as long as possible, Labour confirmed this morning that next week’s Opposition Day debate will follow the party’s call for Andrew Mitchell to receive a £1,000 fine for his outburst by the gates of Downing Street and debate police cuts. The idea is to highlight the ‘double standards’ line that Ed Miliband pushed yesterday at PMQs: while swearing at a police officer would lead to ‘a night in the cell for the yobs, it is a night at the Carlton Club for the Chief Whip’.
As James reported last night, the 1922 Committee was largely warm towards the chief whip, with only five MPs speaking out against Mitchell in the end. Some senior MPs accuse colleagues of failing to realise that this isn’t a real crisis for the party and therefore being too voluble in public about it, while others are relieved Mitchell is staying as they think it allows them to continue voting as they please on certain issues. But I suspect next week’s debate will see Tory MPs falling over themselves to either take a leaf out of Bernard Jenkin’s book and make a strong stand in favour of Mitchell in the chamber or at least hold an urgent meeting at the corrugated cardboard factory in their constituency for the duration of the debate.
It is unlikely to move the story on much further, unless Mitchell chooses to mouth his version of events at the Opposition, as he did yesterday. If Tory MPs really wanted to oust him, they would have made more of an effort by now, and they could well have succeeded, but they haven’t.
The real crunch point will come when Mitchell finds himself co-ordinating his team of whips when the next rebellion appears on the horizon. Will he be able to command the attention and respect of the Prime Minister and dissuade him from the sort of consistently inconsistent messaging that fed the Lords rebellion this summer? And will he manage to command the whips below him? I blogged yesterday that only two whips in Mitchell’s coterie feel he still has authority as chief after the row, while deputy chief whip John Randall was forced to deny he had threatened quitting after Guido’s scoop. If Mitchell can re-inspire loyalty in his team and sufficiently terrify backbenchers who threaten to rebel, then perhaps he will survive into the long-term, too.