Maria Miller expenses row: What's it all about – and will she survive?

 

As the Maria Miller expenses row rumbles on and she battles to save her job, we look at the key questions surrounding the controversy.

Who is she?

Before becoming the MP for Basingstoke in 2005, Mrs Miller was an advertising executive. Since arriving in the Commons, she has had a rapid rise through Tory ranks. After the election David Cameron made her a work and pensions minister and promoted her to the Cabinet as Culture Secretary in September 2012.

What is the row about?

Between 2005 and 2009 Maria Miller claimed more than £90,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses on her house in south-west London which she shared with her husband, children and parents.

The Parliamentary Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, began investigating her claims in 2012 after it was claimed that the claims were a breach of the rules on allowances for second homes.

The Commissioner cleared Mrs Miller of making false expenses claims and said her parents had not benefited financially from the arrangements. However, she concluded the minister had overclaimed by £45,000 and ordered her to pay the money back. She also said Mrs Miller had wrongly designated the property as her second home.

The Standards Committee of MPs watered down the second home ruling and accepted Mrs Miller’s argument that she should only return £5,800.

Why is everyone so angry?

First, Mrs Miller’s apology in the Commons lasting just over half a minute was widely viewed as grudging and perfunctory.

Second, it emerged the minister had taken an aggressive approach to the investigation, being slow to provide information and quick to send what were seen as veiled threats to the Commissioner.

Third, the fact that MPs overruled the Commissioner was widely condemned as politicians apparently looking after each other’s backs.

 

How did David Cameron react?

By giving full support to his embattled minister. Cynics suggested he could not afford to lose one of his four female Cabinet members.

How did Tory MPs react?

Many were dismayed by the apparent double standards of Mrs Miller receiving Mr Cameron’s full protection while others not in his inner circle had, according to one MP, been “thrown to the wolves”.

After returning from their constituencies many reported that voters were furious about the episode. They fear it will hit the party in the ballot box in next month’s local and European elections.

Will Mrs Miller survive?

It will take a fresh unexpected development for her to get the bullet in the next few days – Mr Cameron has too much credit invested in his decision last week to stand behind her.

However, it would be no surprise to see her moved to a lower-profile role in the Cabinet reshuffle expected late next month.

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