When back benchers go feral

In our political system there is no one lower than a back bencher. They are kept in blissful ignorance and made to perform like Pavlov’s dogs. Every now and then though they awaken and realise that if they have safe seats and strong electorate organisations and work together with other similar MPs then they have some power…when they convince those working in marginals that their seat is at risk if they don’t act then you have back bench strength that the party bosses can’t touch. In the UK that has claimed the job of the government’s Chief Whip.

It emerged last night that Mr Mitchell initially thought he could survive the controversy after parliament returned last Monday. However, according to senior Government sources, he had a “wobble” the following day and never recovered his earlier bullish attitude.

He was replaced as Chief Whip by Sir George Young, another keen cyclist who has been dubbed the bicycling baronet. Key events which brought on the resignation included:

*Cabinet colleagues, including Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, let Mr Mitchell know his position was “untenable”.

Mr Mitchell lost the support of large number of Tory MPs first elected in the 2010 general election, many of whom have marginal constituencies.

The intake numbers almost 150 MPs, around half the parliamentary party, and has been the driving force behind damaging rebellions on the European Union and reform of the House of Lords.

*The former chief whip was said by ministerial sources to have lost a stone in weight since the scandal broke. He is weighing up whether to make a personal statement in the Commons this week.

One Cabinet minister said: “Andrew has made the right decision in the end for the party and the government but there was damage done in the meantime.

“Look at what happened last week – unemployment was down, inflation was down, crime was down and hospital waiting lists were down. But what are we talking about the end of the week? Mitchell – again.”

The mood from the back benches was even bleaker with some MPs beginning seriously to question Mr Cameron’s judgment in not insisting Mr Mitchell resigned as chief whip when the incident, in which denies calling officers “plebs” happened.

One member of the 2010 intake said: “We work our nuts off in marginal constituencies and ultimately it means nothing – because senior figures in the party behave in the way they do. It’s very depressing.”

Another Tory MP warned: “Don’t ask me about Mitchell or I will say something I regret. He has been a damaging distraction.”

Local Conservatives in Bristol, a key marginal city with containing four Westminster constituencies, reported that the “plebgate” affair was “the first thing that has got people ringing in for ages”.

Activists feared the claim that Tories were “out of touch” and run by a “bunch of toffs” would be successfully exploited by Labour locally as well as nationally.

A friend of Mr Mitchell said the former chief whip had “taken soundings” on Wednesday and Thursday among colleagues at every level of the party. “There was support for him, across the board, but ultimately not enough,” the friend admitted.

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