Oliver Duff

i Editor's Letter: How not to resign




It is possible to have a good  resignation. Compare the departure of Maria Miller with that of the (now ex-) Immigration Minister Mark Harper, who quit quickly two months ago after learning that his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK. See? You’ve already forgotten about it.

Ms Miller’s downfall was not inevitable. She has not lost her Cabinet job because of the expenses claim, but because of the political ineptitude she’s shown in stoking public anger. As late as Sunday, she might well have clung to office, at  least until the next reshuffle, by going on telly to apologise properly. Instead we learnt how not to resign: take a salvageable situation, insult the public, allow colleagues to fan the aggravation, then go.

Michael Gove struck the right note yesterday. Although saddened by Ms Miller’s demise, he said that the “political class need to recognise the level of public anger over expenses is still very, very raw”.

Don’t believe the hokum that this is all some media revenge on Ms Miller for Leveson or gay marriage. Few papers called on her to resign. Ms Miller was not a big hitter on press regulation, or much else. Frankly it would have suited  opponents of statutory press  regulation for such a weak  Secretary of State to keep her job. And it was Ms Miller’s officials who brought up the threat of Leveson, to try to spook editors from running the original story about her expenses. In so doing they damaged prospects for statutory regulation.

The Prime Minister mistakenly saw this as a battle of wills with a couple of newspapers, rather than a matter of probity and public faith in our politics. (A topic which used to exercise him.) Many ministers have survived worse transgressions because they were supported by colleagues or by grassroots activists.  Ms Miller had neither. Four out of five Tory Party members surveyed said she should resign, and most MPs and ministers refused to back her.

David Cameron showed blind loyalty and walks away from this with flesh wounds, just when he should be buoyed by economic forecasts, reaction to the Budget and polling that shows the Conservatives only three points behind Labour. For him, life goes on. Perhaps, though, he would benefit from more dissenting voices in his circle of advisers.


Twitter.com: @olyduff

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