That’s the consensus Uncut hears swirling around the ranks of senior Tories. Post-conference, the denouement of #gategate has acquired a new lethal inevitability. Hopes of a firebreak, with conference season giving space for the furore to subside, have been decisively dashed.
As members of parliament return to Westminster, Ministers and MPs who have fanned out over the weekend for media interviews are all reporting back the same message to the Tory whips: this problem is not going away.
These interviews were meant to have been an opportunity for the Tories to build on David Cameron’s speech and set the agenda before the start of the Autumn session. But, on every single occasion the questioning returned to Andrew Mitchell’s position.
It not only dragged the MPs back into territory that the Tories have been trying to escape, but also presents a uniquely difficult question to answer.
There’s no defending Mitchell’s conduct. His absence from Birmingham, despite being the Tories’ only Birmingham MP, was stark. The agreed line to take that he apologised and the police personnel involved have accepted the apology leaves too many unanswered questions: what did he actually say? Why are the police federation calling for him to go? How long will this drag on?
The critical day is now Wednesday. PMQs will be dominated by Andrew Mitchell, who will then face the judgement of the Tories backbench 1922 committee later that day when it meets.
If he is sitting there, on the front bench at PMQs, the focus of Ed Miliband’s and Labour’s attack will be on him. The jeers and conveyor belt of questions will be all about the chief whip. The news bulletins will be about just one thing.
If Mitchell stays away from PMQs, like he stayed away from conference, the impact will be similar. The idea that the government’s chief whip can be scared off from entering the chamber is almost worse.
The logical move from Downing street would be to swallow their pride and cut Mitchell at the start of the week before PMQs can descend into a debacle. But the word among Tory MPs is that Number 10 will wait for two reasons.
First, they have bad judgement and will wait till the last moment and beyond, otherwise they would have acted already.
Second, they are trying to hold the line on Mitchell because of a broader power struggle with the police federation. If Mitchell goes then the federation will have won and the next time there’s a conflict with a minister over policing, as there inevitably will be, the precedent will have been set and the baying for ministerial blood will be immediate. Because of this they will try tough out PMQs before being forced to face reality on Wednesday evening.
That reality will be brought home to the leadership at the 1922 committee meeting where the chief whip’s inability to command the respect of his backbenches will be made absolutely clear.
Whether Number 10 displays good judgement and acts early or holds to past performance and is driven to a decision, Andrew Mitchell will be gone by the end of the week.