Maria Miller brought down by post-Leveson witch hunt? No, that doesn't add up


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The Independent Online

Culture Secretary Maria Miller was brought down by a media “witch hunt” because of her involvement in Lord Justice Leveson’s reforms of the press, according to a warped theory adopted by her few political supporters.

It's an argument without merit - not least because Ms Miller, among senior politicians involved in the post-Leveson process, was the most accommodating to the newspaper industry. Unlike Labour's Tessa Jowell, who has undoubtedly been targeted for attempts to curb press excesses, Ms Miller has no such excuse.

Part of her problem was that, having been exposed by the Daily Telegraph for her dubious expenses claims, she went to war with that newspaper - still the house journal on the Tory benches. First her adviser threatened the Telegraph that "Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment" and then she effectively cut the paper off. In response it pursued her relentlessly to her resignation 16 months later.

Grass roots Tories read the criticisms and were appalled. When the Daily Mail - which hated her unapologetic tone - weighed in against her, she was finished. But as the Mail said in an editorial yesterday, the idea she was being pursued because of Leveson is "pathetic". Ms Miller, a former advertising industry executive, had failed to win admirers not just in the press but across a departmental brief that includes the worlds of sport and the arts.

Her successor, Sajid Javid, takes up the post with the Leveson issue still very much unresolved, nearly 18 months after the judge published his report.

Sir Hayden Phillips, who has been appointed by the newspaper industry to oversee the setting up of a new beefed-up regulator, has said the Independent Press Standards Organisation will be operating by June.

It will exist quite separately from the Recognition Panel being set up by the Parliament-approved Royal Charter granted by the Privy Council on October last year.

The press will now be hopeful that IPSO will be allowed to establish itself as an effective replacement for the Press Complaints Commission without interference from the political classes. Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "The new Culture Secretary needs to learn some lessons that a free press has to be strengthened, not undermined."

Until now, Mr Javid has enjoyed a remarkably good press. "Is Maggie's Muslim heir set to follow her all the way to Number Ten?" the Mail on Sunday asked last month, before this recent promotion.

It's hard to imagine that he will risk that relationship by putting pressure on papers to sign up to the Charter. Although there was no post-Leveson witch hunt, the Tory press played a central role in his predecessor's downfall.