Andrew Mitchell ‘pleb’ row: Tory whip in the lions’ den
Andrew Mitchell's career hung by a thread today, as he sat in the Commons chamber for the first time since the row over his alleged 'pleb' outburst.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Simon Danczuk tabled a parliamentary motion calling for the salary of the chief whip to be docked in line with the amount a member of the public would be fined if found guilty of swearing at a police officer.
"We need an end to this mess as soon as possible," Danczuk commented.
"If the prime minister won't act to clean up this mess then parliament should do it for him."
Labour MPs incessantly barracked the Tory chief whip, who took the significant decision of sitting in a prominent position in the Commons for a debate which he must have known would centre on his outburst.
"Andrew Mitchell looking cowed and nervous on the front bench," Labour shadow minister Chris Bryant tweeted once he sat down.
Several Labour MPs laid into the Tory chief whip, who issued a second apology for the 'pleb' outburst over the weekend.
"My right honourable friend has apologised to the officer concerned, the officer accepted that apology and that, most people would think, would be the end of it," immigration minister Damian Green insisted to a rowdy Commons.
Labour MPs called home secretary Theresa May "complacent and out of touch" for her own defence of the chief whip.
"Will she condemn the chief whip for swearing?" shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper asked.
May replied: "I've already answered that particular issue."
Cooper retorted: "Change the chief whip and change policies on policing too."
May replied: "I was asked about the chief whip earlier. I answered the question. The right honourable lady really should listen to the answers."
When May repeated that Mitchell had already apologised for the altercation Mitchell joined other Tories in roaring with approval.
The chief whip will need to survive a meeting of the Tory backbench 1922 committee tomorrow night, when Conservative MPs determined to keep their seats at the next general election ask why David Cameron is permitting the Mitchell row to smear the party's reputation.
Cameron is famously loyal to his colleagues and extremely reluctant to fire those around him who find themselves hunted by the press pack.
But the Mitchell row is particularly damaging because his alleged 'plebs' rant corresponds to voters' worst suspicions of the Tory party.
If MPs' murmurings and the 1922 committee does not finish him, the chief whip will have to be present for the first PMQs of the season, in which he is bound to be the subject of Ed Miliband's attacks.
Downing Street looks determined to protect the chief whip, probably because the opportunity for him to leave office gracefully has now passed and any exit now would barely help Cameron's growing reputation for dithering over ministerial rows.
So far the chief whip has apologised twice and stayed away from the Conservative conference, which took place in his own constituency, in an attempt to end the row – all to no avail.