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Wednesday, April 09, 2014 

Miller in the Floss.

Off then goes Maria Miller, to spend more time with her converted barn in the paradise that is Basingstoke.  Often when politicians are forced to resign it can be written that events conspired against them; not in Miller's case it can't.  Miller clearly could have survived had she made a more fulsome apology than the now infamous non-sorry which only just managed to escape her lips, the kind of basic mistake a more adroit individual would have avoided.  If there's one thing you can't do enough of in modern politics, it's apologising, regardless of whether you mean it or not.  Do it, get it out of the way, reach for an onion if necessary, just don't give the impression you don't care about any mistakes in your expenses whatsoever.

We can't though divorce Miller's forced resignation from the coverage she's received since last week.  This might be one of the first examples of newspapers not claiming to have been responsible for getting a minister sacked, such is the level of embarrassment at knowing full well much of this has been about Leveson and to a lesser extent gay marriage, a whole swathe of hacks pretending their work has been motivated by the levels of public outrage still with us since the expenses scandal was first uncovered.  Have voters really been jamming the phone lines on call-ins as they were back then, all but demanding heads on pikes and the immediate destruction of all duck houses?  If they have, I must have missed it.  True, it doesn't usually take a personal animus for newspapers to splash day after day on a certain minister's problems in an attempt to claim a scalp, as it's something that comes naturally; this though has been something else.  Why after all would Tory papers otherwise fairly happy with their party of late be the ones leading the way, instead of making excuses or saying nothing to see here as they so often have in the past?

Not that it was anything approaching a good idea for Miller's loyal to the end parliamentary private secretary to send a text to presumably sympathetic backbenchers making just this point.  If there was a defend Miller campaign being ran by Number 10, it must rank as one of the understated and incompetent of recent times.  No one seemed to be willing to stand up for her in public other than spokesmen and Boris Johnson, and that was in his usual not entirely serious manner.  Indeed, Esther McVey said she wouldn't have gone about it the way Miller had.  Again though, was no one from Downing Street advising Miller on how to deal with the standards commissioner?  Wasn't it obvious from when the Telegraph suddenly discovered in December of 2012 that there were questions marks over her expenses this was going to be a campaign?  Why then wasn't she told to be completely open, instead of threatening the commissioner and all but telling the Torygraph to leave it?  It suggests a lack of attention to detail, David Cameron not willing to let his sort-of supporters in Fleet Street determine his cabinet, while apparently not caring enough to tell his loyalists to get out there and make clear Miller wasn't going anywhere.

Much as it's been pointed out how ruthless Cameron was to those within his own party over their expenses when he wasn't prime minister, Miller could have been saved, as Hopi Sen argues.  They managed it with Jeremy Hunt, when Number 10 just rode it out and claimed it was all the fault of his PPS Adam Smith that News Corporation was getting information on the Ofcom bid in advance.  It raises the question of why once it was obvious Miller's non-apology hadn't been anything close to adequate she wasn't sent out to try again in front of the cameras, told to accept she had got it badly wrong and apologise for having done so. A clue is perhaps in Cameron's reply to Miller's resignation letter, where he all but agrees with her pleas of innocence, prompting Ed Miliband at PMQ's to ask why she then had to go.

It certainly isn't any clearer tonight. Most likely is a combination of the factors, knowing the press wasn't going to give up, the lack of support from her colleagues and the feared impact on an already tough European campaign. In a way, it's also a case of the Tories reaping what they have sown. This week was meant to be about yet more welfare crackdowns, requiring the unemployed to have a CV and be signed up on the Jobmatch website before they can claim JSA, as well as further restrictions on what EU migrants can claim and when. Instead it's been nothing but Miller and her own outrageous entitlements. Why shouldn't people be angry about MP's expenses when those claiming anything other than middle class benefits are attacked as scroungers, day in, day out?

Cameron as a result has finished up looking weak and indecisive. The only positives to be taken are it will be a passing frenzy, soon forgotten, and that anger over expenses affects politics as a whole rather than any particular party, hence why Ed Miliband prior to today hadn't called for Miller to go. If there is any further embarrassment, it's in how Miller's replacement as minister for women, Nicky Morgan, couldn't also taken on the equalities brief as she voted against gay marriage. It just underlines how few ministers, let alone backbenchers share Cameron's view of both society and the economy. Miller for all her faults did, and he can ill afford to lose many more such supporters.

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