Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell was forced into a grovelling apology this morning after he reportedly launched in to a foul-mouthed tirade against police while leaving Downing Street.
The outburst was particularly badly timed, coming just days after the murder of two policewomen in Manchester, followed by an outpouring of support for officers.
It is the second apology in as many days for the coalition, after Nick Clegg took to YouTube to film a statement showing contrition for breaking his pledge on tuition fees.
Mitchell's apology is far less significant, but he could be damaged by the reports of class-ridden abuse he allegedly shouted at the officers, who had stopped him cycling his bike out the Downing Street gates.
"Open this gate, I'm the chief whip. I'm telling you – I'm the chief whip and I'm coming through these gates," the Sun newspaper reported him as saying. The full tirade was apparently delivered within ear-shot of tourists and members of the public.
"Best you learn your f***ing place. You don’t run this f****** government.
"You're f***ing plebs."
Mitchell accepts an argument took place but denies the specific content reported in the Sun.
In a statement Mitchell said: "On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before.
"I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve.
"I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved."
Metropolitan Police Federation leader John Tully was left unsatiSfied by the apology and demanded Mitchell's resignation for the "outrageous" comments.
A No 10 spokesperson said the prime minister welcomed news of the apology.
"What Andrew Mitchell said and what he did was not appropriate. It was wrong and it is right that he has apologised," David Cameroon said.
"The police should always have our respect and our help and support. That’s very, very important."
MEanwhile, mischevous Twitter users highlighted recent comments from Boris Johnson saying anyone that swore at the police should be arrested.
The Metropolitan Police said it did not plan to make a complaint against Mitchell.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper commented: "These are appalling reports. No one should treat police officers or public servants in this way. And the idea that a Cabinet Minister could behave like this towards police officers doing their job is an utter disgrace.
"It tells you all you need to know about this out of touch Government and its attitude to public servants.
"Downing Street clearly have a lot of questions to answer. They must make clear exactly what happened, including what was said and whether the deeply offensive language reported was used."
Mitchell, a former soldier and self-confessed 'strict disciplinarian' was apparently called 'Thrasher' at school.
He served in the previous Tory government before losing his seat in Tony Blair's 1997 landslide, when he became a director of investment bank Lazard Brothers.
He returned to frontline politics as shadow international defence secretary and kept that role as the party made the transition into government.
But he will be taking on a more prominent role now he has been made chief whip in the Cabinet reshuffle. The move showed he had moved into David Cameron's inner circle.
His unenviable position will involve bringing unruly and rebellious Tory backbenchers under control to prevent any more rebellions such as those over Europe and House of Lords reform.