Tonight’s double resignation – with Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith and deputy chief whip John Randall jumping within minutes of each other left the gagging bill rudderless and made a monday morning reshuffle look likely.
But could it also signify a return to office for Andrew “Plebgate” Mitchell?
Chloe Smith was in charge of the government’s disastrous Lobbying Bill, widely considered to be among the worst bills ever presented to the House of Commons – and now it’s lost its minister just days before it’s due to return to the house.
Scrapbook understands 38 Degrees did a massive leaflet drop across Smith’s constituency last week, asking her to agree to a public meeting on the Lobbying Bill. Perhaps resigning seemed like the safest option.
Chloe’s perhaps most famous for her gloriously Ben Swain-esque Newsnight car-crash, but Scrapbook will remember her fondly for the time she suggested a struggling worker should take a job 140 miles away from her home.
Deputy chief whip John Randall, on the other hand, was last seen threatening to walk if Andrew Mitchell didn’t quit over Plebgate.
Mitchell turned up on Sunday Politics West Midlands this morning (around 35 minutes in). Asked if a return to high office was on the cards he offered a wry smile and said:
“Well, let’s wait and see what takes place…”
Turns out we might not have to wait all that long…
The Tories’ former chief whip Andrew Mitchell and his GP wife are at the centre of a row over financial conflicts of interest in a body which took control of £302 million of NHS money earlier this month.
Mitchell’s wife Dr Sharon Bennett is a member of a London-based clinical commissioning group, a lynchpin of the government’s controversial health reforms. Doctors running the body are to be hauled before a committee at Islington Town Hall to explain why so many of them have links to private providers from which they may be commissioning work.
Among the companies of interest is DicateIT, which outsources transcription of medical notes to India and has already been blamed for the redundancies of 22 skilled medical secretaries at the Whittington Hospital in north London.
Islington Clinical Commissioning Group’s register of interests claims that Dr Bennett owns shares in DictateIT:
But records held by Companies House suggest that the shares are, in fact, owned by her husband Andrew Mitchell. With the holding also absent from his register of interests, the apparent contradiction leaves the couple open to the suggestion that they have tried to disguise his stake in the firm.
An investigation by the Camden New Journal has also revealed that doctors on the group have links to more than 30 private providers. Seven of them (diagram) have links to a private company, South Islington GP Alliance (Sigpal), which was bootstrapped with no less than £40,000 of private money.
But Scrapbook wonders why the Mitchell household would need such cash.
It was revealed last week that the former chief whip has joined a reputational risk consultancy — trousering a measly £3,000 per day.
Right-wing Tory backbencher Christopher Chope is probably wishing he had chosen his words better at Business Questions this morning:
In contrast with Andrew Mitchell’s contested “pleb” outburst, there is no denying the parliamentary record.
With his paper having led the charge against Andrew Mitchell for trying to bring his bicycle through the high security gates at Downing Street, odd that Sun editor Dominic Mohan would try the same thing with his car.
The arrogance was certainly there. The only difference appears to be the lack of swearing:
Along with other editors, Mohan was attending a post-Leveson summit at which collected hacks will presumably be scheming their way out of Brian’s recommendations.
As Channel 5′s Andy Bell observes, access of News International executives to Downing Street is clearly not what it once was.
A Tory backbencher has described Andrew Mitchell as “effectively castrated” after a bruising PMQs and meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers yesterday. But the “f***ing plebs” MP lived to offend another day after an operation to save his skin by party top brass.
Angry MPs were begged not to speak out against Mitchell by 1922 executive member Bernard Jenkin, while any journalist in sight was briefed that Mitchell “needs to rebuild his relationships with colleagues”.
And while vice-chairman John Whittingdale said the party should “draw a line” under the affair, he spurned an opportunity to express his personal backing for Mitchell – and admitted that he may not retain the confidence of the backbenchers for whose discipline he is supposedly responsible.
The influential body has spilt the blood of numerous senior Tories on the floor of Committee Room 14, with David Mellor, Iain Duncan Smith, Leon Brittan and Peter Carrington among its victims.
If Mitchell had resigned immediately he could have returned after a year on the naughty step.
That isn’t an option now.
Labour will this afternoon call for Andrew Mitchell’s pay packet to be docked by £1,000. Though the motion is unlikely to be given parliamentary time, it will add to pressure on the chief whip, whose position is widely viewed as untenable since his “f***ing plebs” rant at police.
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who will move the motion, wants to fine Mitchell a grand as this is what the courts would likely have demanded if he were prosecuted under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Mitchell takes home £79,000 as the parliamentary secretary to the Treasury and magistrates’ guidelines suggest a fine of between 50 to 125% of weekly income.
With absolutely delicious timing, the Downing Street reception for the Police Federation’s Bravery Awards is taking place at midday on Thursday. The body — effectively the trade union for police officers — has been demanding Mitchell be sacked.
It remains to be seen whether the canapés will be augmented with Andrew Mitchell’s head on a plate.
- Backbenchers complain to influential 1922 Committee
- Local Tories complain it’s hit them on the doorstep
- Rumours sweep conference that top brass want him out
The row over Andrew Mitchell’s abuse of Downing Street police refuses to fade, with news that backbench MPs have written to the 1922 Committee to complain. The involvement of the influential group of MPs underscores suggestions that the chief whip is now unable to perform his duties — enforcing party discipline.
Mitchell was even ordered to stay away from Tory conference this week despite being the only MP to hold a seat in the city. One Tory MP even complained that the plebs are now using the word “pleb”:
“This business is doing us lasting harm. The word ‘pleb’ seems to have passed into common parlance.”
The Sun reports that “jokers” (aka The Sun political team) have distributed fake conference passes emblazoned with Mitchell’s photo and the words “Let me through you f****** pleb”.
Two weeks after the event, Mitchell’s outburst is still news — but can Cameron sack him now after publicly backing him over the police?
Arrogant Andrew Mitchell made a second attempt to bring his bicycle through Downing Street’s main gates, just 12 hours after he called police officers “plebs”. The Tory chief somehow managed to keep his temper in check the second time he tried the route, which has been prohibited to pedestrians for security reasons.
But the police will soon be obligated to allow Mitchell through Downing Street’s main gates once more — because he’ll be in a taxpayer-funded Jaguar he has demanded for the Whips Office.