Andrew Mitchell: Was he right to resign?
by Ema Globyte in Politics Lab
Tue October 23, 4:25 p.m. BST
It seems Andrew Mitchell’s momentarily loss of temper four weeks ago, when he allegedly called police officers ‘plebs’ and told them to ‘know their place’, cost the now former chief whip his career. After a month-long effort to fend off claims that he had insulted police officers, the MP has now resigned from the government.
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Andrew Mitchell said that he would be unable to fulfil his duties as they would both wish. Therefore, he was resigning – but giving his ‘categorical assurance’ that he had never used the words ‘moron’ or ‘pleb’, or any other ‘pejorative descriptions’ attributed to him.
There were rumours that the prime minister came under pressure from his own cabinet to sack former chief whip for the ‘outburst’.
Michael Gove, the education secretary, told the Guardian he ‘wanted Andrew to stay’ because he did not believe ’30 years of public service should be effaced at a stroke by seven seconds of unacceptable but very human exasperation’.
However, others argued that had the Chief Whip resigned four weeks ago, it would have ended the affair in the most acceptable way, including the Tory MP Andrew Percy, who said he was ‘staggered’ by the way Downing Street handled the situation.
We asked Labs participants to share their views, and tell us whether they think Andrew Mitchell was right to resign. Our debaters were also asked about how they thought the government handled the situation.
Here’s what they thought…
Most participants believed that Andrew Mitchell was right to resign, and many suggested he should have done so much sooner. A variety of reasons for this emerged among Labs participants, which are shared below.
Some, however, disagreed with his resignation and claimed that the situation was exaggerated - a ‘mountain made out a molehill’. Some believed that an apology was enough to end the incident.
When asked their opinions about how the government handled the situation, most thought Downing Street handled the affair “very badly”. Quite a few participants believed the situation was handled “fairly badly”, while only a very small number of participants thought the situation was handled “fairly well” – arguing that the issue in fact lay with the press, not the government.
Participants who thought Mitchell was right to resign
Many participants related the former chief whip’s resignation with the responsibility his prior position bears. As an individual who is a representative of his party, he should lead by example, not become the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons, participants thought.
“He is in a position of responsibility and should have been arrested for swearing at police” Anon
“He could not control his own emotions and it would not have been credible for him to be responsible to control those of others” Tony, South West
Some participants believed that Mitchell needed to resign for the good of his party, as it would go against the ethics of the party.
“I think for the good of his party he did the right thing. Also it is of concern that a man in such a position would resort to swearing” Anon
“His party feign to be tough on people who abuse the police. He should not be treated differently” Lorraine, London
Other participants believed the former MP lost all respect from his colleagues and the public, making his position unsustainable.
“His position as Chief Whip has become untenable as he will no longer command respect from his peers” Mary ,Somerset
Other participants drew attention to the fact that had a member of public been in a similar situation, he/she would have been arrested.
“It is clear to anyone who has examined the facts of this matter that Mitchell had no choice but to resign. One cannot expect to swear at a police officer in a way which had several members of The Federation declare that had this been a member of the public they would have been arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and then go on about their business” Chris, Glasgow
“His attitude towards the police was disgusting; any teenager who had made similar comments would have been arrested” Neil, York
“If a member of the public insulted a police officer there would be repercussions. Surely, the Government should lead by example? It cannot be one rule for them and another for us 'plebs'” Janet, Cornwall
Some believed Mitchell had to resign to end the on-going media attention to the issue, as it was becoming sensationalised.
“If Andrew Mitchell had done the right thing and come clean about what had actually happened, this affair could have nipped in the bud quickly. He had already apologised to the officer in question, his superiors at the MPS and also the PM, which should have been the end of it. Instead we were forced to suffer daily doses of this saga for 4-weeks” EarlRay, Canterbury
Participants who thought Mitchell was right to resign – and should have done so sooner
Many participants believed Mitchell was right to resign, as they thought his arrogance and lack of good manners was unacceptable. Many of these debaters thought he should have resigned much sooner.
“He seems to look down on people who he regards as beneath him. Should have resigned sooner” Colin Hampshire
“He showed disregard for police staff, who are public servants. His attitude since has been derisory and arrogant” Anon
“Everyone should show some good manners, especially to people like police officers. Mitchell should have gone weeks ago” Martin, Hampton
“He should have been sacked straight away! MPs should not abuse police officers in any way. They should remember they are elected representatives - nothing more” Judy, Scotland
Labs participants who thought Mitchell should have not resigned
A much smaller amount of people believed that former chief whip should have not resigned. Many saw the issue as sensationalised by the media, while some had other reasons for such claims.
Some participants believed Mitchel should have not resigned – he should have been sacked instead.
“He should have not had the right to resign. He should have been sacked. If any member of the public is offensive to a police officer they can face criminal charges” Anon
“He should have been sacked” Alan, Cambridge
Other participants believed Mitchell should have not resigned, as he made a humane mistake for which he apologised.
“He made a mistake in the heat of the moment. He apologized for what he said. His apology was accepted. End of story. Would the police now like to be similarly hounded out for any mistakes that they make?” Anon
“Haven't we all lost our rag at some point, reacting in a way which is out of character because we have had an extremely frustrating and irritating day? It's certainly happened to me more than once, not that I'm proud of it. He apologised, the apology was accepted, leave it at that. The bloody media so like to keep these things rolling, don't they?” Anon
“I think the whole affair was a storm in a teacup. He apologised to the policeman concerned, and that should have been the end of the affair. The leader of the opposition thought otherwise, and decided to do some point scoring!” Jill, Herefordshire
“It is a mountain made out of a molehill. The whole issue was blown out of all proportion by the Police Federation. Their Union chief made an issue out of it for self-interested political reasons, which is totally unacceptable, as the police should not get involved in politics. It was also highly hypocritical of both the police and the press to push for his resignation over such a minor spat when they are guilty of many very serious misdemeanour's themselves” Anon
The government handled the situation very badly
Many participants believed the situation was not handled well, as Andrew Mitchell should have been sacked as soon as the affair happened.
“Action should have been taken immediately to fire him by David Cameron” Charles, Wales
“He should have been dismissed within hours - not weeks” Ian, North Yorkshire
“Cameron should have asked for his resignation immediately. It would have all been forgotten about and he could have returned to Government in a future reshuffle. As it has dragged on, it is less likely to be forgotten about” Brad, Kent
“They should have sacked him on the spot. What message does it send to the general public when a man in his position is allowed to swear at police and get the full backing of the PM” Phil, Lee on the Solent
Some not only believed that the situation was handled really badly; it also made the PM look indecisive and as though he lacked trust in the police.
“The idea that a government minister or official has license to be bad mannered to any of the plebiscite is unacceptable. The implication that the police are liars does not help the government. He should have resigned immediately, or failing that the ever reactionary Mr Cameron should have sacked him. The current situation leaves the PM looking indecisive at best and complicit otherwise” Anon
“Once the story broke, the PM should have called in Mitchell and told him to resign immediately. The delay, and Mitchell's failure to resign, indicated that the PM did not believe the word and testimony of the Police, which was a grave error of judgment on his behalf” Brian, Whitehall
“David Cameron should have been more decisive and sacked him” Judy, Scotland
“Cameron should have been more decisive in dealing with him and not support such a pompous attitude from anyone” Anon
Many participants believed the government simply let the issue drag on for too long.
“There are far more important issues facing the country than having to spend so much time and effort on this affair - about what was or wasn't said by Mitchell to the police officer. Cameron was wrong to allow this matter to fester for so long - this should have been dealt with quickly and if that meant moving Mitchell to another post, then so be it. The government has been dragged into the mire un-necessarily which could have been avoided. It shows weak leadership” EarlRay, Canterbury
“They let it drag on for too long” Anon
Some Labs participants believed that the government handled the situation badly as it showed they do not uphold the rule of law, and are out of touch with the public.
“He should have been sacked. The primary role of government is to uphold the rule of law. You can't persecute looters whilst excusing this kind of behaviour in the rich and powerful. Having power mandates one to be a role model and demonstrate respect for the rule of law” Carol, Edinburgh
The government handled the situation fairly well
Of the few participants who believed the government handled the affair fairly well, most argued that the issue was in fact blown out of proportion by the press.
“The government tried to get it over with as soon as possible but the gutter press tried to keep it going as usual” Richard, Hampshire
“This is a story that would have gone away had it not been continually in the media headlines and top of the agenda of Ed Milliband. There are far worse things going on than somebody losing his rag with probably somebody with an attitude” Anon
Was Andrew Mitchell right to resign? Share your thoughts below.