At the high court on 27 November 2014 Mr Justice Mitting dismissed a libel suit by former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell against The Sun newspaper. Reporting on the ‘Plebgate’ affair, the tabloid claimed that Mitchell launched a profanity-laced tirade at PC Toby Rowland of the Diplomatic Protection Group simply for doing his job. This culminated in the phrase “a fucking pleb”. This politically toxic insult cost Mitchell his position as Conservative chief whip.
With Justice Mitting’s ruling, the cost of failure has significantly increased for Mitchell. He must pay £300,000 in legal costs, though the final figure may rise to £1.5m. Mitchell has also reputedly conceded he has no future in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet. It’s a hard fall for someone whose political future once seemed bright.
The son of Sir David Mitchell, a former MP and junior cabinet minister, Andrew Mitchell entered Parliament in 1987 and held his seat for a decade. He returned to Westminster in 2001 and became Secretary of State for International Development after the 2010 election. He was appointed chief whip in September 2012 but on the 19th came the contretemps with PC Rowland. A month later Mitchell resigned.
Yet, like cracks between the lines of this impressive CV, emotional issues can be discerned. At Rugby School he was a self-confessed “stern disciplinarian”. During the libel case he denied that he lost his temper with PC Rowland but admitted to being short-tempered. The eminently sensible Justice Mitting rebuked Mitchell for splitting hairs, described his behaviour as “childish” and considered his account to be inconsistent with the evidence. Mitchell was also accused of insulting the police on at least 16 other occasions.
Despite this, Mitchell maintained both his innocence and a clear sense of superiority. Instead, he embarked on a quixotic libel suit against The Sun that put both his family and that of PC Rowland through the wringer and incurred a colossal yet needless legal bill.
Mitchell shares this sense of untouchable grandiosity with Chris Huhne, another outcast from Parliament after attempting to cover up a traffic infringement. During Huhne’s trial it was revealed he was no longer even on texting—let alone speaking—terms with his son. Once again dazzling outward success comes at enormous emotional cost. What is notable about both Mitchell and Huhne is the pettiness of the incidents that brought them low.
What is notable about both Andrew Mitchell and Chris Huhne is the pettiness of the incidents that brought them low.
Like Huhne, the libel suit has revealed Mitchell to be high-handed, ill tempered and emotionally immature. These traits are diametrically opposite from his dog Molly, the 2009 Westminster Dog of the Year, a Welsh Springer Spaniel noted for its temperament and commended as “the ‘glue’ of her family”. With Mitchell’s divisive abrasiveness it is clear why that glue is required. With Justice Mitting’s ruling, the political and financial costs of uttering that single four-letter word are becoming clear. The emotional costs will, in all probability, never be known.