‘Plebgate’ Row

December 19, 2012 by  

‘Plebgate’ Row, After a Channel 4 News and Dispatches investigation questions the account recorded in a police log and results in calls for an investigation, Michael Crick answers the key questions on the row. The argument over whether Andrew Mitchell called a police officer a “f****** pleb” dragged on for more than a month: the incident happened on 19 September, and he resigned on 19 October.

There was huge pressure on him during that time. It was very embarrassing for the Conservative party and was seized on by political opponents. But the reason why the particular phrase “you f****** pleb” was so dangerous to the Conservatives was that it reinforced the negative image of them being public school toffs who looked down on ordinary people.

In the end he lost his job because effectively he could no longer operate as chief whip. It’s a hugely important position – the chief whip is responsible for disciplining back benchers, making sure everyone votes for government and relaying members’ views to the prime minister and vice versa. Basically he had lost the confidence of back benchers, many of whom thought the swearing was the kind of thing Mr Mitchell could easily have done.

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Two things really. Firstly, Channel 4 News and Dispatches have shown the world, for the first time, three different rolls of CCTV footage from the afternoon of Thursday 19 September. In several ways that footage seems to undermine the police log of events that was leaked to the Telegraph the following week. Although there’s no audio, the body movements don’t suggest aggressive outbursts by Mr Mitchell.

But perhaps most importantly, the Telegraph log says there were eyewitnesses to the incident who were “visibly shocked”. The CCTV footage shows just one man wandering up and down, but he doesn’t appear to be showing any particular interest in the incident, or to be shocked. That does undermine the police log.

Secondly, we now know that an email was sent from a man in Ruislip, to his MP John Randall – who coincidentally was and still is deputy chief whip – with an account very similar to the police log published in the Telegraph. This had a big impact within Downing Street, and I think probably persuaded Mr Randall that Mr Mitchell should go.

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