Jeremy Heywood considered the possibility of a Plebgate conspiracy, but left it at that
By Peter Hoskin
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On the whole, Tory MPs don’t have much love for Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary. For many of them, he is someone who wields too much power and who uses it to influence the direction of government. Increasingly, they apply the same lexicon of insults to him as they do to Nick Clegg. Some of it isn’t family friendly.
I mention this because Mr Heywood’s appearance before the Public Administration Committee — chaired by Bernard Jenkin, and with the Conservative MPs Alun Cairns, Charlie Elphicke, Robert Halfon and Priti Patel among its members — will have done nothing to reverse this collective opinion. The Cabinet Secretary was there to talk about his investigation into elements of the Andrew Mitchell affair, but he managed little more than to raise further questions about it all.
The headline point from Mr Heywood’s testimony was probably his admission that he considered the possibility of a conspiracy against Mr Mitchell, but that he let it rest there:
“We accepted that there were unanswered questions, including the possibility of a gigantic conspiracy, or a small conspiracy. Those were unanswered questions, but we decided, on balance, to let matters rest as they were.”
Why so passive? My Heywood claimed that he simply couldn’t do any more. David Cameron had tasked him with investigating that infamous “eyewitness” email which appeared to corroborate the police log, and which we now know was written by an off-duty police officer — and that he did. Mr Heywood explained that, after checking the email against CCTV footage of the incident, he concluded that it was “unreliable,” and that he advised the Prime Minister against heeding its contents. “I think I did the job competently and came to the right conclusion,” he said.
The Cabinet Secretary didn’t then start to question the police log. He didn’t look into whether Mr Mitchell used the word “pleb,” or not. He didn’t discover that the author of the email was linked to the police, although he was “mildly suspicious” about him. He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t. Although, according to Mr Heywood, he also shouldn’t have:
“It’s not the role of a civil servant or the Cabinet Secretary to start investigating the police. That’s not my job. I don’t have the powers. I don’t have the expertise. It wouldn’t be right for the Cabinet Secretary to be involved in that sort of thing.”
And he added:
“It clearly wouldn't have been appropriate to ask the cabinet secretary to start investigating the veracity of the police logs. That is a matter for the IPCC not the cabinet secretary.”
Which clearly shocked several of the MPs on the committee. Even if it wasn’t appropriate for the Cabinet Secretary to start wading through police logs, wasn’t that part of the problem? As Bernard Jenkin put it:
“You weren’t asked to get to the bottom of it, you didn’t think it was your obligation to get to the bottom of it, and because of your failure to get to the bottom of it, the government lost its Chief Whip.”
Which, appropriately enough for this tangle of a story, leaves us back at the beginning of the post. Jeremy Heywood will have enraged plenty of Tory MPs today, some of who have already been expressing their anger to the Mail’s Tim Shipman. One said to me this afternoon: “Now we know this wasn’t an actual investigation, just another civil service box-ticking exercise.”