The word which launched itself out of the radio when I heard the news of Cabinet minister Maria Miller’s apology to the House of Commons on Thursday was “attitude”. From that, read sheer arrogance, thinly-veiled threats by Mrs Miller to the Standards Commissioner and by her special advisor to journalists reporting on the investigation, and rank intransigence.
For the word “attitude” to be deliberately used in the Standards Committee’s written judgement – considered a very strong and somewhat “impolite” word by the Westminster elite – demonstrates just how pompous and arrogant Culture Secretary Maria Miller must be to deal with. No wonder David Cameron likes her so much.
But back to the facts of Maria Miller’s expenses claims. Parliament’s independent standards commissioner, a post created after the expenses scandal rocked Westminster in 2009, Kathryn Hudson, found the Culture Secretary had incorrectly designated an expensive property in south-west London as her ‘second home’ and then over-claimed £45,000 for mortgage payments at the taxpayer’s expense. Mrs Miller was in fact housing her parents in the ‘second home’ and from all accounts was spending more nights herself in the property than her designated ‘main home’ in her Basingstoke constituency. Parliamentary rules specifically state using taxpayer’s money to pay for the housing of relatives is strictly forbidden. Frankly, Maria Miller was committing fraud, a crime which some MPs have been sent to prison for.
Mrs Hudson’s report then had to pass to a committee of MPs – the Standards Committee – who decided to water down the findings and declared the Culture Secretary only needed to pay back £5,800 to the taxpayer and apologise for her “attitude” towards the inquiry. It had taken Kathryn Hudson’s team 14 months to unravel Mrs Miller’s £90,000 expenses claim, whilst being obstructed by the Culture Secretary at every turn, but only 32-seconds for the Cabinet minister to issue her reply to the findings.
During her apology (read from the backbenchers in the House of Commons despite Maria Miller being a front bench Cabinet secretary – one of those parliamentary quirks I guess!) she was flanked by the Chief Whip, Sir George Young, and her predecessor at the Culture, Media and Sport department, Jeremy Hunt, who had galloped from the front bench to assume his loyal position. Loyalty to the prime minister that is.
You see you don’t get this sort of senior support whilst being forced to “apologise to the House” (i.e. to the country) unless the big man in Number 10 wants the offender to stick around. Maria Miller is only one of three ministers in David Cameron’s cabinet and he has a bit of a reputation for being anti-woman, according to private polling and of course egged on by a smirking Ed Miliband. It really wouldn’t do for one of his female standard bearers to be given the chop.
Today, the Tories had their Spring Conference – in central London again, thus ensuring ordinary Conservatives were kept away by sheer expense (no pun intended) – and the Cameroon Tories were out in force saying to the 24-hour news channels how “wooonderful” Maria Miller is and how her constituents “just love her”. If you look closely as the Cameroons were being interviewed you can see David Cameron dart into the venue behind them. Job done.
Back in the real-world and real Tory shires, the verdict is somewhat more to the point. Tonight a Survation poll has found 82% of Conservative voters say Maria Miller should resign from cabinet and 66% say she should resign as an MP. Interestingly, 73% of the public as a whole say the apology Mrs Miller gave to the House of Commons was not enough.
David Cameron has yet again gone against his own members (and the public) in favour of a select elite who now run the Conservative Party. Perhaps he will pay attention to Survation’s voting intention figures which see the Conservatives slump to 29 points with UKIP – after Nigel Farage sunk Clegg on Wednesday – up 4 points to 20%.
It’s Miller time – to go!