Maria Miller profile: a rapid rise led to her Leveson role that friends blame for her downfall
She was pushed through legislation on gay marriage, a flagship Cameron policy she embraced but one that might also have cost her support
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 09 April 2014
Maria Miller may be remembered as a minister who found herself in the wrong job at the wrong time.
Friends of the former Culture Secretary believe she would not have been forced to resign from the Cabinet if she had not been responsible for implementing the proposals to reform newspaper regulation flowing from the Leveson inquiry.
Ms Miller's resignation letter does not disguise her sense of injustice — or her belief that her fall was caused in part by her role in implementing Leveson. The original allegation over her expenses, on which she was cleared, was made in The Daily Telegraph. To add fuel to the flames, the newspaper claimed that Joanna Hindley, her special adviser, put pressure on it by “ flagging up” her boss’s role in the post-Levson discussions. Ms Hindley strongly denies that she was trying to threaten the paper.
Friends will also reflect that the 50-year-old Basingstoke MP was a lightning rod for attacks by newspapers resisting tougher regulation, that should really have been aimed at David Cameron. Downing Street, rather than Ms Miller, was calling the shots as the Government wrestled with the thorny question of whether to bring in statutory controls of the press. Significantly, Ms Miller was absent when a 2.30am deal was struck with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in the Labour leader's office. The Conservatives were represented by Oliver Letwin, Mr Cameron's policy chief.
Read more: Maria Miller resigns: Sajid Javid appointed new Culture Secretary following expenses row
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Ms Miller was an advertising executive and former marketing manager at Texaco before becoming an MP in 2005. She rose quickly up the ladder, being made an opposition spokeswoman on education Mr Cameron in the year she was elected and later the shadow Minister for Families. She was made Minister for Disabled People when the Coalition was formed in 2010, winning promotion to the Cabinet as Culture Secretary and Minister for Equalities and Women two years later. Tory critics believed her ascent was due in part to the paucity of experienced women Conservative MPs. She was one of only four women in the Cabinet as Mr Cameron struggled to implement his pre-election pledge that a third of his ministers would be women. Those critics point to a lack of political judgement in her short and rather grudging apology to the Commons over her response to the expenses inquiry, saying a more contrite approach would have saved her skin.
Civil servants saw her as a safe pair of hands rather than someone destined for higher office, a minister more comfortable reading a brief than thinking on her feet.
As Minister for Equalities, she was responsible for steering legislation on gay marriage on to the statute book, a flagship Cameron policy she embraced enthusiastically. As with Leveson, her support for the measure may have left her with fewer friends in her hour of need; there was strong hostility to same-sex marriage on the Tory backbenches and among the party's grassroots.
In the short term at least, Ms Miller will be remembered for a row about her expenses rather than for an historic change on gay rights. Even in the long run, the credit for that may go to Mr Cameron.
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