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By Peter Hoskin
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Heywood

On
the whole, Tory MPs don’t have much love for Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet
Secretary. For many of them, he is someone who wields too much power and who
uses it to influence the direction of government. Increasingly, they apply the
same lexicon of insults to him as they do to Nick Clegg. Some of it isn’t
family friendly.

I
mention this because Mr Heywood’s appearance before the Public Administration
Committee — chaired by Bernard Jenkin, and with the Conservative MPs Alun
Cairns, Charlie Elphicke, Robert Halfon and Priti Patel among its members —
will have done nothing to reverse this collective opinion. The Cabinet
Secretary was there to talk about his investigation into elements of the Andrew
Mitchell affair, but he managed little more than to raise further questions
about it all.

The
headline point from Mr Heywood’s testimony was probably his admission that he
considered the possibility of a conspiracy against Mr Mitchell, but that he let
it rest there:

“We accepted
that there were unanswered questions, including the possibility of a gigantic
conspiracy, or a small conspiracy. Those were unanswered questions, but we decided,
on balance, to let matters rest as they were.”

Why
so passive? My Heywood claimed that he simply couldn’t do any more. David
Cameron had tasked him with investigating that infamous “eyewitness” email
which appeared to corroborate the police log, and which we now know was written
by an off-duty police officer — and that he did. Mr Heywood explained that,
after checking the email against CCTV footage of the incident, he concluded
that it was “unreliable,” and that he advised the Prime Minister against
heeding its contents. “I think I did the job competently and came to the right
conclusion,” he said.

The
Cabinet Secretary didn’t then start to question the police log. He didn’t look
into whether Mr Mitchell used the word “pleb,” or not. He didn’t discover that
the author of the email was linked to the police, although he was “mildly
suspicious” about him. He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t. Although, according to
Mr Heywood, he also shouldn’t have:

“It’s not
the role of a civil servant or the Cabinet Secretary to start investigating the
police. That’s not my job. I don’t have the powers. I don’t have the expertise.
It wouldn’t be right for the Cabinet Secretary to be involved in that sort of
thing.”

And
he added:

“It clearly
wouldn't have been appropriate to ask the cabinet secretary to start
investigating the veracity of the police logs. That is a matter for the IPCC
not the cabinet secretary.”

Which
clearly shocked several of the MPs on the committee. Even if it wasn’t appropriate
for the Cabinet Secretary to start wading through police logs, wasn’t that part
of the problem? As Bernard Jenkin put it:

You weren’t asked to
get to the bottom of it, you didn’t think it was your obligation to get to the
bottom of it, and because of your failure to get to the bottom of it, the
government lost its Chief Whip.”

Which, appropriately enough for this
tangle of a story, leaves us back at the beginning of the post. Jeremy Heywood
will have enraged plenty of Tory MPs today, some of who have
already been expressing their anger to the Mail’s Tim Shipman. One said to me
this afternoon: “Now we know this wasn’t an actual investigation, just another
civil service box-ticking exercise.”

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