Andrew Mitchell has to go for the good of the Conservative Party
Not since the incomparable Francis Urquhart has an enthralling story of the Chief Whip so dominated the nation's television screens. But Gate-gate, or Pleb-gate-gate has also travelled half-way round the world. It is a distasteful episode, involving a senior member of HM Government, who reportedly blew his top when a police security officer refused to open the main Downing Street security gates for his bike, instead asking the Chief Whip to exit via the side gate.
Mr Mitchell is alleged to have sworn at the police office involved (using the procreative 'f' word) and to have called her (for it was a WPC) a 'moron' and a 'pleb'. Further threats apparently included 'You haven't heard the last of this', with an exhortation to 'know your place'.
All patronising, pompous and sneeringly classist, consistent with the 'little posh boys' narrative which is slowly retoxifying the Tory brand under David Cameron.
His Grace is troubled that The Sun has managed to obtain a copy of the police officer's notebook, for there is no logical explanation for that other than collusion. One might have thought, in the wake of phone-hacking complicity, that the police would have been more cautious before once again collaborating with agenda-driven journalists.
And speaking of agendas, it is apparent that the Metropolitan Police Federation is a trade union in all but name, and that John Tully, its leader, is a union boss in all but name; and that this union boss, like all of them, is distinctly anti-Conservative with a particular dislike of Tory posh boys.
But there's a problem.
The police officer made contemporary notes of the incident before Mr Tully managed to seize the agenda. In a court of law, a contemporary written account carries far more weight than vaguely-recalled facts recounted some days or weeks later.
Andrew Mitchell has apologised, but in this instance an apology is simply not enough. For this is politics, and politics is rarely concerned with the truth. By staying in his job, the Chief Whip is inflicting damage upon the Conservative Party and the Government. By keeping him in his job, the Prime Minister is once again displaying poor judgment. It no longer matters what Mr Mitchell actually said: 'pleb' has captured the narrative, and 'know your place' echoes the manner and attitude of Cameron as 'Flashman', the public-school bully. However the police officer may have embellished the account (which, rationally, is not likely, for the police notebook tends to record facts), people will believe what they want to believe, and few will question the veracity of police sacred writ over a politician's redaction as he squirms to keep his job - especially a posh Tory one.
If Andrew Mitchell does not permit the axe to fall very soon, we will hear about nothing but 'Tory toffs' throughout this conference season. If he cared about his party and the Government, he would resign. Awfully unfair and unjust, maybe. But that's politics. His friends will rally round and make sympathetic phone calls; his colleagues will put out supportive Tweets and tell Facebook what a really good egg he is. But the reality is that if this had been Peter Bone or Douglas Carswell, the Prime Minister would have sacked them on the spot with a concerted effort to end their political careers. Look what happened to Patrick Mercer.
But Andrew Mitchell is a mate. Whether or not the word 'pleb' passed his lips, he must go for the good of the Conservative Party. And he would not be the first who with best meaning has incurred the worst.