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Monday 3rd September 2012 | 09:08
Andrew Mitchell surprised some when he seized with gusto his job as International Development Secretary.
Renowned as a dry-as-dust, traditional Rightwinger on the economy (low tax, low spending), a few colleagues wondered whether he could adapt to the classically Cameroonian policy of increasing overseas aid (more spending, meeting a UN target) to detoxify the party's image.
Mitchell has impressed the PM with his safe pair of hands, loyalty and his commitment to the cause.
But fresh speculation that he could become the new Chief Whip in the reshuffle is bound to revive memories of Mitchell the Whip.
It was in the Whips Office under John Major that Mitchell forged his friendship with David Davis (and Derek Conway, though he is still persona non grata among many MPs). Handling the Maastricht rebellion was a tough blooding for the young Mitchell (also a banker with Lazards) and he learned the dark arts swiftly. Both he and DD remained on good terms with the Eurosceps* and indeed went on to champion their cause later.
At the height of speculation in 2011 about Patrick McLoughlin falling out of favour with No.10, Mitchell had an intriguing line (in an FT interview) on the perils of staying in the Whips' Office for too long: "the iron of cynicism starts to corrode your soul..."
Some cynical Cameroons still don't quite trust Mitchell despite his good works and feel he's too close to DD for comfort (DD has been pointed in his criticisms of Osborne-economics). They fear that putting him in charge of party discipline would be a dangerous move.
But at a time when the PM needs to boost the Right more than ever, there's a feeling that if Mitchell is to be replaced by Baroness Warsi at DfID, he can't be fobbed off with a non-job. As the success of Michael Fallon's deputy chairman job showed, it's often better to have the Right inside the tent than outside it. It's worth remembering that rumours of Mitchell's demise before the 2010 election proved to be totally unfounded.
Despite fears among some that he's too much of a schemer, Mitchell has a wicked sense of humour (and a sumptuous wine collection) that appeals to many colleagues. Not for nothing is this one of his favourite emails from a constituent:
"I note that you are both a banker and a politician. Do you have any plans to become an estate agent?"
FOOTNOTE: *DD played a key role in persuading Major not to deselect several of the Maastricht rebels. Major wanted vengeance but DD (and Mitchell) succeeded in arguing that MPs should not be effectively executed for holding a position of principle. That suggests a less nuclear approach to rebellions, despite Mitchell having a military background of 'strong discipline'.
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