Maria Miller resignation: David Cameron faces backbench backlash over his mishandling of expenses scandal

 

David Cameron’s judgement was called into question by Conservative MPs as his “problem with women” was highlighted by a chaotic reshuffle after the resignation of Maria Miller.

The Prime Minister was accused of marginalising women after he put a man, Sajid Javid, in charge of equalities and appointed a Minister for Women, Nicky Morgan, who opposed same-sex marriage. His reshuffle means there is no mother in the Cabinet for the first time since 1992, and  leaves the number of female full Cabinet ministers - three - at its lowest level since 1997.

Mr Cameron came under fire for allowing Ms Miller to cling on to her job as Culture Secretary for six long days after a perfunctory 32-second Commons apology for her response during a Parliamentary inquiry into allegations about her expenses.

In what was dubbed a "Whitehall farce", Mr Cameron's swift mini-reshuffle backfired. Mr Javid, a Treasury minister, was promoted to Culture Secretary and also took on Ms Miller's work as Equalities Minister. But so as to avoid him being Minister for Women, that part of Ms Miller's brief was handed to Ms Morgan, a Treasury minister promoted to Mr Javid's former number three position in George Osborne's department.

Read more: A post-Leveson witch hunt? It doesn't add up
Comment: What would the arts world like to see from Javid?
Comment: What happened PM's pledge to increase women in Cabinet?
Sketch: ‘It's a fair result, Gary, but I feel Ed should have scored'
Editorial: Miller was right to resign. But avoidable errors mean her departure has damaged both parliament and the Tories

It leaves four ministers with responsibility for women's issues - Mr Javid, Ms Morgan, Helen Grant, the Sports Minister, and Jenny Willott, a Liberal Democrat minister at the Department for Business. Downing Street was unable to say which minister would answer questions in the Commons on issues such as women's pay and lesbian marriages.

Three hours after insisting Ms Morgan would report to Mr Javid, Number 10 made a U-turn. Mr Cameron's spokesman said: "Nicky Morgan will report directly to the Prime Minister on women's issues. I want to correct a mistake I made." He said Ms Morgan would attend all meetings of the Cabinet, even though she is not a full member.

Labour claimed the chaos revealed Mr Cameron's "blind spot" over women. Gloria de Piero, the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said: "David Cameron's decision to replace Maria Miller with Sajid Javid means that there is now no full member of the Cabinet speaking for women. There are now just three women running Government departments out of a possible 22, demonstrating that when it comes to women, it's out of sight, out of mind for this out of touch Government."

Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women in Democracy, said: "Despite his pre-election pledge to make a third of his ministerial list female, the Prime Minister is now running the country with a Cabinet that's almost 90 per cent male. This mini-reshuffle has taken us backwards not forwards when it comes to women's representation."

The official version of events is that Ms Miller decided to leave the Cabinet because the media coverage of the expenses controversy was a "distraction."  But senior Conservatives believe she was pushed out by Downing Street on Tuesday evening, as Mr Cameron faced two cross-examinations yesterday at Prime Minister's Questions and a meeting with Tory backbenchers, many of whom had lost confidence in Ms Miller amid voter anger about her behaviour.

David Cameron speaks during Prime Minister's Questions (PA) David Cameron speaks during Prime Minister's Questions (PA)
Mr Cameron and his officials did not deny speculation that a Downing Street emissary told Ms Miller her time was up on Tuesday night. "The decision was made late yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon to get rid of her," one government source said. According to this version, Number 10's verdict was  "not something she immediately grasped."  A claim by Mary Macleod, her Parliamentary aide, that Ms Miller was the victim of a media "witch-hunt", was said to be "the final nail in the coffin" for Downing Street.

In her resignation letter this morning, Ms Miller appeared to blame her downfall on her role in implementing the Leveson inquiry proposals for tougher press regulation. She said this "would always be controversial for the press". In an emotional TV interview in which she was close to tears, Ms Miller took "full responsibility" for her decision to stand down. She is entitled to a pay-off of more than £17,000 but has decided to give it to "a local charity" in her Basingstoke constituency.

Mr Cameron raised the prospect of an eventual frontbench return but, after a week of damaging headlines, senior Tories doubt that will happen. "The rule is go quickly, then you can come back," one said. "The PM had a trial of strength with the press and he lost. This is the worst of all worlds."

Nick de Bois, secretary of the 1922 Committee of MPs, said: "This should not have been allowed to drag on the way it did." He said some Conservatives did not understand how "toxic" the MPs' expenses issue remains for the public, even though the rules have changed since the 2009 scandal erupted - and Ms Miller was cleared of the original allegations against her.

Mr Cameron tried to draw a line under the controversy during a 20-minute appearance before the 1922 Committee this evening, telling his MPs he was not the sort of person to "drop" a colleague at the first sign of trouble. He urged them to focus on four big fights - next month's local and European elections, the Scottish independence referendum in September and next year's general election. A senior Tory said: "24 hours ago, this would have been a very different meeting, a showdown. It was almost like a relief rally."

One Tory MP said: "There is no sense of grip in Downing Street. The handling of this whole affair has been a shambles - they have shown a tin ear to the public mood over expenses."

Another said: "Number 10 have always handled the press badly. This was just another example of that in a long list."

Both Mr Javid and Ms Morgan are close allies of Mr Osborne. Andrea Leadsom, a backbencher who has criticised the Chancellor in the past, was promoted to Ms Morgan's old job as Treasury Economic Secretary.

Visiting Basingstoke, Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, called for a by-election there. He accused the Coalition of failing to deliver on its promise to give voters the power to "recall" MPs who behave badly.

Timeline: 32-second apology to resignation in six days

Last Thursday Maria Miller makes 32-second apology in the Commons after being told to pay £5,800 of overclaimed expenses. She was also accused of trying to thwart the Standards Commissioner's investigation with "legalistic" objections. David Cameron stands by her.

Friday A recording of a phone call is released by The Daily Telegraph in which Jo Hindley, her special adviser, "flags up" to a reporter that the Culture Secretary would be meeting the paper's editor about the Leveson Report into press standards.

Saturday Fresh questions are raised over whether Ms Miller will pay capital gains tax on the sale of her home. A poll finds 78 per cent of voters think she should quit. The Ipsa chief, Sir Ian Kennedy, says MPs should no longer police each other's conduct.

Sunday Lord Tebbit, the former Tory chairman, calls for her resignation.

Monday Ms Miller begins to lose support among Tory MPs, with the minister Esther McVey among those going public with their criticism. Mr Cameron again defends her.

Tuesday The trickle of criticism becomes a tide, but Downing Street insists the PM will not bow to the pressure. Mrs Miller tells her local paper she is "devastated" by the episode and her ministerial aide, Mary Macleod, says her boss faces a press witch-hunt.

7.20am today Ms Miller announces resignation following a phone call with Mr Cameron.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks