DAVID Cameron yesterday faced continued criticism over his handling of Andrew Mitchell’s resignation, as divisions within the cabinet surfaced over the fate of the former chief whip.
Home secretary Theresa May repeatedly declined to comment on claims that she had led senior colleagues in calling for Mitchell to go.
“I’m not going to talk about private conversations. Andrew has now resigned. I think that’s the end of it,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.
However education secretary Michael Gove said that both he and the Prime Minister supported Mitchell to the end: “David Cameron wanted to keep Andrew. I wanted Andrew to stay because I don’t believe and the Prime Minister doesn’t believe that thirty years of public service should be effaced at a stroke by seven seconds of unacceptable but very human exasperation.”
“But Andrew came to that decision and he did so because he wanted to put the interests of the party collectively ahead of his own,” Gove told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme.
Backbench MP Andrew Percy said he was “staggered” by Downing Street’s management of the story while Tory peer Norman Tebbit said “this dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name”.
Mitchell resigned on Friday evening following four weeks of speculation over whether he called Downing Street policemen “f****** plebs”.
He admitted swearing at the officers after they refused to let him ride his bicycle but continues to insist that the words, recorded in the official police log, were inaccurate. However Mitchell told Cameron in his resignation letter that it had become clear that “whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfil my duties as we would both wish”.
It had been thought a show of support at Wednesday’s meeting of the 1922 committee – which represents backbench Tory MPs – would save Mitchell but he decided that could no longer enforce party discipline.
Meanwhile David Cameron will today attempt to assert his control over the political agenda by making a keynote speech on law and order.
In it he will pledge to “bring the logic of our public service reform agenda” – especially payment by results on re-offending – in order to “transform criminal justice”.