“Do You Know Who I Am?”

The Andrew Mitchell story is surely not that unique. He is hardly a household name in his own household. And if I ever appear on the excellent “Pointless Quiz” on BBC and chosse “Tory MPs Recognised By The Public”, I would nominate Andrew Mitchell……surely a “pointless answer”. Indeed yesterday I kept referring to him as DAVID Mitchell.

So ANDREW Mitchell. Chief Whip in the Con-Lib Coalition. Appointed three weeks ago. And in charge of keeping the names of Tory MPs out of the headlines.

But it seems to have gone to his head a bit.

He is a Man of the People. Well maybe he is……..and maybe he isnt. But he rides a bicycle about Westminster……..which is a Member of Parliament’s way of saying he is an ordinary bloke.

So what could possibly go wrong? Well those big gates at the end of Downing Street. On Wednesday evening, Mitchelll leaves his office at 12 Downing Street and the policemen on duty dont open the gates so that he can make a grand exit……showing the people in Whitehall that he is not just some press officer or whatever. He is the Government Chief Whip! The police tell him to take himself and his bike out thru the pedestrian exit. Like an ordinary bloke.

What happens next is in doubt. Mitchell has issued a grovelling apology saying that he did not treat the police officers with proper respect. He has spoken to the officer concerned. But words were exchanged….mostly it seems by Mitchell. Some words “plebs”, “Im the Chief Whip!!” and “f***ing morons” are alleged to have been spoken.

All from a Tory Government Minister. A few months ago Boris Johnson, Mayor of London made a speech in which he urged zero tolerance for people who swear at police officers. His Tory audience applauded. Of course it does not seem very likely that Mitchell will be arrested. Because Tories make laws for other people not for themselves.

Yet “Gate-gate” has the capacity to embarass the Government. And it takes a heart of stone not to laugh when an episode of “The Thick of It” is enacted in front of our very eyes.

Just before 8am this morning, there is breaking news……and it seems like some political correspondents have been early risers. Gary O’Donoghue and Joey Jones and others are there with  camera crews. No doubt Government Press Officers have been briefing them. “Get to the Cabinet Office on Whitehall at 8am and Andrew Mitchell will make a statement”.

At 8am…….Mitchell arrives…..makes a fuzzy kinda statement/apology on the pavement and hurries into the Cabinet Office. A rainy looking morning in London. No sign of the bicycle…..and no sign of Mitchell walking to 12 Downing Street via those “gates”. Indeed the first time Mitchell goes thru those gates, it will be in the full glare of publicity.

Rightward leaning Lib Dems….in coalition with the Tories……..wish it would all go away. They must express a degree of righteous disgust……but it has to be limited. Leftward-leaning Lib Dems such as Vince Cable sieze the real mood of the Lib Dems (holding their annual conference this week) by joking at Mitchell’s expense.

Of course there are dimensions to this story. Mitchell insists he did not say “words attributed to me” but its unclear if this means none, some or all of the words…….”f**king morons”, “plebs”. The Police made nots at the time and somehow these notes or what purports to be these notes have been published by The Sun newspaper.

Will he stay or will he go? To some extent it is no longer relevant. A Government Minister who actually releases a more revealing account of that altercation is unlikely to survive the embarassment….as wahtever words were used are unlikely to show Mitchell in a good light. And denying the allegations without further explanation runs the risk of effectively calling the Police liars. And as always the factor that Labour must bear in mind is that a damaged Government Minister is more useful to them than a “clean skin”.

Which brings me to Nelson McCausland, himself the subject of a vote of no confidence in Stormont today. Stormont is of course a Grand Coalition of five parties……..and the DUP and Sinn Féin are at its heart. Alliance is more central to it than SDLP and UUP.

Yet heres the irony. The SDLP arrange the vote of no-confidence. But its as much about embarassing Sinn Féin as it is about embarassing McCausland, who is shameless. And its even more about embarassing those highly principled……but only occasionally………Alliance people.

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12 Responses to “Do You Know Who I Am?”

  1. FJH, I’m starting to think this matter has rather run its course tbh. SDLP noted it would and it has put a motion for censure for Nelson to which SF has joined them

    It would have been much more of an embarrassment for SF if they had not joined at all but having rowed in behind SDLP on this the scope for embarrassment or division is pretty limited. I also would argue that the matter has largely run its course as it is known by all that without cross communal support this motion will not go anywhere.

    It is a small victory for the SDLP though a victory nonetheless as they have taken the lead and SF has had to play catch up, however, I would caution against reading too much into any SDLP v SF battle royale as the matter is an assembly technical matter and will largely be ignored by the populace who have no interest in these technical matters.

    As for the Alliance, did they go along with the motion or not as I’m not entirely certain on this one. Granted, the media has not given too much time to what there opinion is or else I may have missed it so please help me on this!

    • The Alliance Party voted with SDLP & Sinn Féin.
      As with everything, there is a danger of making too much OR too little of this.
      Ive heard it described on Tinternet as “the day the SDLP came roaring back” and I think that over-states it (although it is a major morale boost). These things are not totally in isolation. And these small incremental steps are worthwhile.
      For once SDLP took the lead and guaged the mood of the nationalist electorate more than Sinn Fein.
      There are small victories within the victory…..Robinson accusing SDLP of inflaming tensions ahed of the Covenant March and Nelson McCausland apparently was unpleasant about Nichola Mallon, SDLP councillor in North Belfast and a likely successor to Alban Magennis……..who apparently turned in a great performance today.
      A Good Day.

      • I think that’s about right. It’s a welcome morale boost for the SDLP especially for those up on the Hill as they’re taking the lead. Not for a moment would I say that point scoring in the chamber should be avoided; at the end of the day in the game of politics for pols this is something that amongst them is important but something that is nowhere near as important to those of us outside said chamber.

        I would like to see if this can help in starting to get some kind of critical mass of good news or a narrative together that makes them stand as something different to SF but at the same time a party that as a Nat I feel (and many others too) will look after my best interests.

      • I dont think there can be a criitical mass of relentless good news. There will be be small positive things and small negative things ..up and down.
        As things stand now, SDLP is on 14 seats and that would probably be 15/16/17 if it had not been for the unmitigated disaster of Margaret Ritchies leadership. In real terms thats about the level of support. There was an opinion poll of sorts at the weekend which put the Alliance party on 13% and SDLP on 9% but even Slugger could not whip up any enthusiasm for that.
        Overall the last year has been fairly positive. Certainly morale IS high….important going into Conference but also……things like Recruitment, Finance and the general buzz around various meetings, seminars is pretty good.
        Members of political parties are a bit like fans of footbal teams. Ive read some over the top statements from Manchester United supporters that we were “brilliant” yesterday. Level headed supporters will know that we were second best and got away with it.
        Some SDLP supporters are saying this is the day that the SDLP “roared back” and thats a very optimistic way putting it…..but clearly todays debate was perhaps the culmination of a years work.
        Sinn Féin and Alliance…..and credit where it is due…….weighed in behind the SDLp motion. Credit also to David McClarty the Independent Unionist.
        Typically Robinson and the DUP were full of bluster.
        Typically Nesbitt talked the talk on Saturday and couldnt walk the walk today.
        And what can we say of the two UUP members….Basil McCrea and John McCallister ……who simply abstained. Liberal “unionists”? And is that the same John McCallister who was a guest at the SDLP Youth Conference in March?

      • I’ve been reading a lot of Michael Wolff of late as I like the insight he offers. In a piece of his for Vanity Fair back in 2009 he talks about the emergence of ‘Politico’, including it’s creation and the very nature of the product it offers. There is something in it that struck me is somewhat applicable to what the SDLP’s motion to censure is in effect. Whilst this is a charge he levels at ‘Politico’, it can equally be leveled against the SDLP on this matter. If I may partly paraphrase, tear up and make applicable to the SDLP:

        ‘If one of the gravest dangers of politics, and the real rap against [Politicians in general], is its insiderism, [the SDLP’s motion to censure] vastly compounds the problem. The propensity of the political class to speak only to itself is enabled to a new degree by [its motion]. Indeed, the ever more detailed nature of this conversation may mean there’s no time to speak to anyone else.’

        Here’s the full piece:

        http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/08/wolff200908

        I know I am being quite unfair on a matter I actually agree with them on, however, I think the SDLP leadership needs to be hard on itself, get disciplined and not allow this to become something where other lower, younger and inexperienced members pat themselves on the back on this ‘win’ rather than thinking what the hell they will be doing next to challenge, form and set the agenda.

      • There are “INSIDERS” and “insiders” if you get my drift. Inexperienced people will get a little carried away but the core of the Party….MLAs, councillors, branch chairmen, secretaries press officers, political assistants are a fairly “hard” lot. They wont get carried away.

      • I could never imagine a torrent of ‘relentless’ good news for the SDLP or any party in Norn Iron, however, you would like a narrative or for most things that the party touches to be golden as such.

        A good day for the party, yes, and in all fairness to alliance, SF and McClarty, they stepped up to the plate and will be judged to be on the right side of history.

        The biggest losers in this whole debacle is Mike ‘I’m a great communicator’ Nesbitt and the UU who did vote against the motion. People are not idiots yet he likes to treat them as such on a near daily basis. I think of the UU much like I think of HMV; a business waaaaaayyyy past the point of no return and will be going into administration anytime soon.

        As for the SDLP, there is much more to be happy about; the party has ditched Richie, the worst leader in its history and seems to be definitely turning a corner.

      • I hope that’s the case FJH, though some obvious insiders will often get carried away

  2. hoboroad says:

    I see David McClarty the Independent Unionist MLA voted for censure of McCausland alongside the SDLP and SF.

  3. hoboroad says:

    And Steven Agnew the Green Party MLA for North Down voted along with the SDLP and SF and APNI.

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