Crisis mismanagement: Maria Miller was right to resign. But avoidable errors mean her departure has damaged both parliament and the Tories

 

Share

In the end, Maria Miller did not even last the full 10 days beyond which – says a Westminster maxim erroneously ascribed to Alastair Campbell – a headline-whipped minister cannot hope to survive. Less than a week after the Culture Secretary’s ill-advisedly curt apology for her failure to cooperate with enquiries into controversial expenses claims, she duly stepped down.

Quite right, too. She may have been cleared of the charge of using public money to subsidise her parents’ living costs, but that was no longer the point at issue. The combination of her mulish response to efforts to get to the bottom of the matter, and her manifestly unapologetic apology – all 30 seconds of it – rendered it impossible for Ms Miller to remain in the Cabinet.

A resignation just hours before the weekly joust of Prime Minister’s Questions was always going to prompt speculation that, despite the support in public, Downing Street gave a shove in private. David Cameron did not rise to the bait, but Ms Miller’s equivocal statements did little to scotch the rumours. Either way, the desired result was achieved. While the subject could not be dodged entirely, the Prime Minister avoided having to defend a colleague whose position had become so obviously indefensible.

The damage is done, even so. Rightly or wrongly, Ms Miller’s financial arrangements have reignited suspicions about MPs’ motivations and dealt a blow to hopes of the political class restoring its collective reputation after the catastrophe of the expenses scandal. Meanwhile the spectacle of parliamentarians overturning the recommendations of the independent standards commissioner – thus slashing Ms Miller’s repayments from £45,000 to £5,800 – has reinforced the sense of Westminster as a club that plays by its own, self-determined rules.

There are repercussions for Mr Cameron, too. For all the appeal of his claim that firing someone at the first sign of trouble is weakness, not leadership, more than a whiff of poor judgment remains. Given the ferocity of public opinion on MPs’ expenses, the gravity of Ms Miller’s situation should have been immediately evident. It is one thing to stick by one’s colleagues, but quite another to grossly mistake the national mood – particularly for a Prime Minister routinely accused of being “out of touch”.

To clean up the mess, the rules must be changed so that MPs no longer police themselves. But the matter does not end there. It might seem obvious that the principle of independent oversight should apply to the media just as it should to Parliament. Yet there can be little doubt that some newspapers have put the boot in extra hard over the past week because of the Culture Secretary’s role in crafting such rules, in the aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry. An immature attempt by one of Ms Miller’s advisers to bully journalists on that basis only played into fears of political manipulation.

Except that the proposed royal charter-based system would take press regulation far from the secretary of state or, indeed, any politician. Both MPs’ intercession over Ms Miller’s expenses and the rough treatment meted out by axe-grinding newspapers make the case for a swift resolution more strongly than ever. Of the tasks facing the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, this is both the trickiest and the highest priority.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week