Mitchell survives PMQs after Miliband fails to go for the kill

Andrew Mitchell survived PMQs without too much humiliation today, after Ed Miliband failed to go in for the kill over the 'pleb' row.

The Tory chief whip is not out the water yet, however, as he still must still survive a meeting of the 1922 Conservative backbench committee later this afternoon.

Miliband used the first PMQs since the conference season to cite Boris Johnson's comments at last year's Tory party conference, in which he demanded those who swore at the police be arrested.

At that point, Mitchell, who was sat next to Andrew Lansley on the government front bench, shouted: "I didn't swear."

Miliband replied: "He says he didn't. Maybe he'll tell us what he did say. Did the chief whip use those words?"

Mitchell has resisted efforts to get him to reveal the full details of what he said to an officer outside Downing Street last month, but the official police record says he called him a "f***ing pleb".

"The chief whip apologised," Cameron said.

"That apology has been accepted. What he did and said was wrong."

Miliband replied: "Just because an officer has better manners than the chief whip doesn't mean he should keep his job.

"While it's a night in the cell for the yobs, it's a night in the Carlton club [a Conservative private members club] for the chief whip.

"They say I practise class war and they go round calling people 'plebs'."

Miliband then lost his advantage when he spread out his attack to include the state of the economy, saying: "While everyone else loses their jobs, the chief whip keeps his."

Tories leapt on this comment as evidence Miliband had written his questions ahead of today's broadly positive unemployment figures. In his defence, Miliband had spent some of his earlier questions raising concerns about long-term and youth-unemployment.

"He comes to this House, he's written out his clever political questions, he doesn't care what's really happening in our economy," Cameron shouted.

Miliband's failure to go in for the kill suggests Mitchell will probably survive the day as chief whip. Most observers believe he can survive the 'pleb' row if he survives today.

Some commentators suggested Labour wants him to remain in his place, as he can be used as a whip to beat Cameron. His presence also protects Miliband from Cameron's 'class war' attacks.

Labour also tabled a motion demanding Mitchell be docked £1,000 – roughly the amount a member of the public would be fined for swearing at officers.

Mitchell will only know his fate when he speaks to the executive committee of the 1922 group sometime this evening. The committee meets at around 16:00 BST, giving Tory MPs a chance to discuss how much damage the 'pleb' row is doing to their prospects at the general election.

Senior ministers told Sky News they were "beyond despair" at Mitchell's continued presence as chief whip this morning.

And speaking yesterday, vice-president of the 1922 committee John Whittingdale refused to back the former international development secretary.

"I hoped, and I think all of us hoped, that he could draw a line under it. It is distressing that it doesn't yet appear possible to do that," he said.

"It is a matter ultimately for the prime minister. My colleagues will undoubtedly be taking soundings and will let the prime minister know the views of the parliamentary party."

The first post-conference PMQs session is the most closely watched of the parliamentary year, as journalists look for signs of which party leader has returned with the biggest spring in their step.

Most commentators handed it to Miliband, although there was praise for Cameron's dogged performance.