By Paul Goodman
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Ring, ring. Ring, ring. It's a senior source from the 1922 Committee's Executive on the phone, denouncing the Telegraph's story about a "showdown" between the '22 and Andrew Mitchell.
The paper reports that the '22 "will meet to discuss any concerns
they have over Mr Mitchell, and other issues, on Wednesday. One senior
MP said that a delegation from the committee would then meet with
Mr Mitchell to relay details from the meeting".
My source points out that there is a meeting of the '22 – in other
words, of all Tory backbenchers – every Wednesday when the Commons is
sitting, and that it is is followed by a further meeting of the '22's
officers and the Chief Whip. In other words, my source argues, there
will be no special meeting of the '22 to discuss Mr Mitchell's
plight: indeed, it may not be discussed at all. So there may be a
showdown, and there may not be a showdown.
On the one hand, my source is right to point all this out; on the
other, there's rather more to the matter. The paper reports "growing
anger among [the '22's] executive" over the way the story has run and
run, and quotes that senior MP as saying that Mitchell "is not a
credible figure…He is doing so much reputational
damage to the party and to David Cameron. We are not happy with
Andrew Mitchell. Locally, everybody is asking
questions: "Why is this guy still in a job?"
Hmm. If the Telegraph reports anger among the '22 executive then I
reckon that there is anger among the '22 executive. Without wanting to
follow in the footsteps of John Major – who turned in his latter Downing
Street days into a Sherlock Holmesian figure, deducing from newspaper
reports who had briefed whom against him – it looks to me as though the
paper has spoken to a '22 Executive source. Can I suggest that these
'22 sources try speaking to one another?
In any event, the Chief Whip usually sits at the back of Committee
Room 14 during the weekly '22 meeting, surrounded by a phalanx of fellow
Whips, observing the contributions of his colleagues. Or so Patrick
McLoughlin, Andrew Robothan (then his Deputy) and John Randall (then the
pairing whip) did when I was an MP, looking for all the world like a
three wise monkeys tribute act.
I very much doubt, therefore, whether the Mitchell affair will be
raised in the '22 on Wednesday afternoon, unless some helpful stooge –
sorry, independent-minded backbencher – clambers to his feet so that the
Chief Whip can be supported and the media briefed to this effect
afterwards. But you never know. The '22's Executive will also meet
this week, and it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall. I think
Mr Mitchell shouldn't be driven out and have said so here.