Letters: Miller’s message – morality is for the little people

These letters appear in the Saturday 5th April edition of the Independent

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The Prime Minister refuses to sack Maria Miller over her overclaiming of accommodation allowances, while at the same time enforcing a spare-room tax for the poor.

Even worse is that the all-party “Standards Committee” watered down the recommendation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that she should hand back £45,000, asking instead that she should return just £5,800 of taxpayers’ money.

The committee’s final report stated that even if the commissioner was strictly right about the rules, it was “inappropriate” to apply them. Really?  If a welfare-benefit claimant had been found guilty of claiming benefits that  they were not entitled  to, they would be on  their way to prison.

David Cameron even went so far as to claim that Miller “was cleared of the original allegation made against her”. Well actually no she wasn’t; it was the Standards Committee that labelled the overclaimed expenses an “administrative error”.

We have been told by David Cameron that his welfare-benefit reforms are part of a social and moral mission. He wants to end the “something for nothing” culture. Hence the food banks; hence the sick and disabled dying when benefits have been withdrawn; hence the spare-room tax for the poor: it’s for their own good.

Yet David Cameron also says that Maria Miller shouldn’t have to resign, she should simply repay £5,800 and people should just leave it at that.

Well he would wouldn’t he? Morality is always for the little people.  

Julie Partridge, London SE15


If one has been caught overclaiming one’s expenses, does one now have a precedent that to repay a small percentage and make an apology will suffice?

This would be good news for benefit claimants who have inadvertently been overpaid, but are unable to prove this, and also for all employees who have been over-exuberant in their claims. A policy, in effect, whereby one makes a (very brief) request for forgiveness. I expect this will be added to the next set of changes to benefit and employment regulations, since we are “all in it together”.

Lee Dalton, Weymouth, Dorset


Having been ordered to make a full apology to the Parliament for over-claiming expenses I was appalled to hear the tone and manner of Maria Miller MP in her apology; it was so contemptuous and pompous that it should lead to some alternative disciplinary action by the Conservative Party.

Such arrogant behaviour from an MP and cabinet member who was caught overclaiming expenses is completely unacceptable and sadly reduces Parliamentary standards down to a new low in British politics.

Dennis Forbes Grattan, Aberdeen


The crazy futility of demanding an apology is well brought out by Maria Miller’s little charade. Uttering the words “I apologise” – even unreservedly – provides little evidence that the speaker is sincere, if instructed to utter those words. What is valuable is a sincere apology where the individual concerned recognises that she has behaved badly and regrets that she has let people down. Clearly Ms Miller lacks such regret, possibly even such recognition.

Peter Cave, London W1


I am most surprised at the outrage expressed regarding Maria Miller’s overclaiming of mortgage expenses, her obstructive attitude to the inquiry and her derisory apology to the Commons. Surely, in profiteering from the public purse and being contemptuous of the public trust, she is merely fulfilling her role as this government’s Culture Secretary?

Julian Self, Milton Keynes


Judging by the support extended to Maria Miller by David Cameron and other Tories, I assume they consider her to be an example of the people they deem to have “done the right thing”.

I Christie, King’s Lynn, Norfolk


Student debt will send stress soaring

Requiring young people to take on significant debt in order to acquire an education is simply wrong (Letters, 3 April). There is plenty of evidence that graduates earn more on average than non-graduates, but this may be because they have (on average) greater intelligence and motivation, not because they have been to university. So the assumption that students should borrow against future increased earnings is questionable.

Most graduates will be saddled with paying for their education at a time in life when they are struggling to pay mortgages and bring up children on only moderate incomes. For many, debt will be a cause of stress and, for some, disaster. The assumption that personal debt is, or should be, an essential part of modern living is most pernicious.

If you wish to go to university now there is little choice apart from taking out a student loan. The effects of the policy of increasing tuition fees are likely to become manifest in between five and 15 years’ time as stress and unhappiness in the next generation of middle-income earners.

Andrew Craig, Hartlepool


Maria Gee correctly points out that employers wanting a diverse workforce need to look beyond the self-selected Russell Group of universities (Letters, 2 April). This is particularly true with regard to those graduates who did it the hard way, at night, probably after a day’s work and in addition to their family responsibilities. Any successful employer should not find it too difficult to choose between such a person and a 21-year-old who did it the easy way.

There are hardly any of the former graduating from the “Jane” Russells, because their “teachers” would shy away from the prospect of staying on after tea a couple of times a week to do it all over again with grown-ups.

Professor Chris Barton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire


Blight of the London emigrants

Does it occur to Mr Thomas (Letters, 4 April) that had he and many of his fellow Londoners stayed in London then it might still be the idealised city he dreams of. Instead they sell up in London, with great financial gain, move to Eastbourne, East Anglia and here to Lincolnshire, thus pushing up house prices for the local, poorly paid (by comparison) young people and then moan about such things as church bells and (currently here in Lincolnshire) farmers’ bird scarers, not to mention wind turbines, animal noises, lack of facilities, aircraft noise, tractors etc. Immigrants don’t just come from overseas or other ethnic groups Mr Thomas.

Terry Hancock, Lincoln


Anglo-saxon rules, ok?

Roy Spilsbury’s letter about the incomprehensible Latin words which used to be used in the civil courts made me laugh out loud on a crowded train from London to Kent.

However, he may be unaware that the civil courts have long since abandoned the use of Latin in favour of plain Anglo-Saxon words. A 1996 report by Lord Woolf on access to justice was followed by new procedure rules in 1998, which brought in changes to the language used in all civil courts.

Latin terms like mandamus and certiorari were replaced by “summary orders” and affidavits were replaced by witness statements. Sine die has died a death in favour of “with no fixed date”. There may be fewer jokes about lawyers and judges around, but the courts have made every effort to use plain English wherever possible.

Laura Kaufman, Tonbridge, Kent


Health advice, from good to useless

Only the UK could reduce the joys of eating luscious, ripe fruit to a grim daily penance of “seven a day” – and complain about the price of it (Letters, 3 April).

Forget the supermarkets’ generally tasteless arrays and buy your fruit at an enterprising discount store where you can often get bags of good basic bananas, apples or pears for about 10p a piece – hardly budget-breaking. Try out different varieties. Learn how to recognise ripe fruit whatever the label may say – go for all those lovely brown-speckled bananas and yellowing green grapes about to be dumped. Messily share a squidgy orange with a loved one. Then it’s no problem to resist the expensive soft fruits, and the never-to-really-ripen exotics with their large carbon footprints.

Alison Sutherland, Kirkwall, Orkney


Since the current reporting of medical research seems directed at inculcating healthier habits in the population at large, it is difficult to know what we should make of the information that men who started smoking before the age of 11 are more likely to have overweight teenage sons (report, 3 April).

It certainly isn’t information that is of the slightest use to the unfortunate sons, and it is difficult to imagine that 11-year-olds are going to pay much attention to the possible plight of their putative offspring when considering the pros and cons of taking up smoking. We can only hope that the Medical Research Council didn’t spend too much  time or money on this particular inanity.

Gill Salway, Oxford