Coffee House

Maria Miller’s resignation has exposed another Tory shambles

9 April 2014

7:31 AM

9 April 2014

7:31 AM

[audioboo url=””]Maria Miller: Resigning is ‘the right thing to do’[/audioboo]
Yet again, the Conservative Party has reminded us that it is quite capable of losing the next election. The Maria Miller episode is entirely consistent with a party that is so gauche, so addicted to self-harm that it can make Ed Miliband seem positively presidential by comparison. It’s right that she resigned, but had she and her superiors thought more about all this beforehand the calamity of the last week could have been avoided and the party could have emerged from this with credit. David Cameron should have dropped her, or mounted a proper operation to defend her. He did neither –  hence the mess that stands before us now.

The was supposed to be the week where government would have a single theme, highlighting its striking success with welfare reform. Instead, the theme has been one of Tory chaos as MPs publicly debated whether or not the Culture Secretary should walk the plank.

The blame starts with the Prime Minister. He should need no telling about expenses scandals. Not so long ago, he dealt quickly and forcefully with Tory MPs who had been exposed by the Daily Telegraph’s investigation – in stark contrast with the prevaricating Gordon Brown. Now it seems it was Mr Cameron’s turn to misread this as being chiefly a battle with the press, rather than as a simple matter of probity. He raised no questions about her behaviour, not did he insist on a semi-decent apology. His “move along, nothing to see here” response did her no favours.

The idea of a press ‘witch hunt’ for Ms Miller, to avenge her role in the politicians’ charter for press regulation, is hogwash. When her Parliamentary Private Secretary publicly suggested this, with a text message on the front page of today’s Guardian, it was another sign of things falling apart. Few would flatter Ms Millar to believe that she was a decisive actor in the Leveson drama. Or the gay marriage legislation. The link between her expenses and Leveson was first made by her own special adviser, when trying to warn the Telegraph off a fresh investigation.


The explanation for the public outrage always was far simpler. Ms Miller is guilty of breaching the parliamentary code of conduct and had been ordered to repay wrongly claimed money.

Having chosen to fight, No10 seem to have had no plan for winning. Normally, the drill is to line up Ministers and MPs who can go out to defend the embattled minister. No such arrangements were made. I’ve spoken to MPs who have been stunned at the sheer disorder in No10, the utter absence of a basic political operation – or the ability to even guess how all this would play out. The Cabinet has been noticeable by its silence – aware of just how toxic it is to be seen defending someone seen to have been on the hey-diddle-diddle.

Esther McVey, the welfare minister, was allowed to go on to ITV’s The Agenda and admit that she would not have fiddled her expenses – stoking the row further. Perhaps she was being mischievous. But it’s more likely that she alerted No10 about her position before going to the programme, and was not discouraged. Yet again, an abject failure of party management has been exposed.

And then there was Ms Millar’s 32-second apology – perhaps, the most aggravating factor of this whole farce. Uttered in the Commons without a hint of contrition, she could not have done more to stoke the controversy if she tried. In her graceless statement, she failed to even express regret for the flawed nature of the pre-2010 expenses system or to explain that the Commissioner had agreed to the reduction in the amount she was expected to repay. The Prime Minister ought, at the very least, to have insisted upon contrition.

The explanation given by her aides afterwards was that she kept it short so as to ‘keep it together’ – that is, to avoid crying. Playing this card has infuriated Tory women, and understandably. It is hard to imagine hard-headed members of the government like Theresa May, Nicky Morgan or Margot James breaking into tears.

She is right to have quit now, and stop infliction further damage on her party – with just a month to go until the European elections and a year to the general election. But had anyone in No10 thought this through properly, she could have been seen to have resign with dignity and honour – rather than the fracas of the last few days.

George Osborne’s budget had put the wind back into the sails of the Conservative Party. Now, the ship seems to have steered itself back into the winds and one of the crew has just jumped overboard. Lucky old Miliband.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Equaloiter

    Vince Cable should quit over his part in the £Billions robbery via Royal Mail.

  • Sean Grainger

    Don’t blame Mr Fraser, he’s moved on to Abba analysis.

  • Jimble

    Miller didn’t go of her own volition – she was pushed.

    I suspect Lynton Crosby & Osborne sent Mary Macleod out on last night’s kamikaze mission to see if a Miller fightback could spare Cameron’s blushes before the Easter break. A barnacle that needed to be scrapped off the Tory boat.

  • Mc Kenzie

    Fraser nails it – I really think Cameron has given up – he just wants to p*** people off now – he knows he will be gone one way or another next year – so he’s like a sulky teenager – no attempt at leadership – no attempt at political tactics

    ps would disagree with your high opinion of Nicky Morgan – she sounded like a 6th former on Radio the other nite

  • dado_trunking

    MM has not exposed a Tories shambles (other than perhaps an ill-conceived centralisation agenda), MM has exposed a systems shambles in which an MP’s main line of income is not his/her salary but his/her capital gains.

  • Smithersjones2013

    An immigration minister resigns immediately despite having shown due care and attention and having acted appropriately and honourably throughout regarding the employment of an immigrant lately discovered as illegal.

    A bovine dimwit of a Culture Minister is defiant despite having been found wrong by an independent adjudication and then largely let off by a bunch of her MP mates. She is then backed up by the most dull-witted Prime Minister in living memory. Clearly the PPE degree he got was in Privilege, Patronage and Elitism

    Its just another reminder that when it comes to politics the Tories are truly the village idiots!

  • Nigel Tipple

    Nelson suggest Cameron should have either backed her or sacked her. I’m afraid both actions would require proper leadership qualities…something the Prime Minister is decidedly short of.

  • Bob Hutton

    There IS a God and He will NOT be mocked

  • english_pensioner

    She’s made her money, got her million pound pad in the country and now can retire to obscurity an enjoy her ill-gotten gains.
    Or is she going to designate this as her main home and start all over again with a new place in London?
    I trust the Basingstoke Conservative party does the same to her as the Suffolk party did to Tim Yeo, which would probably also help to get Cameron out of his present mess.

    • Shinsei1967

      She’s sold a million pound pad in London and bought a million pound pad in Hampshire. She’s not made any net gain (beyond “normal” house price inflation over the last 20 years, she bought the London house in 1995).

      • english_pensioner

        Except the taxpayer paid her mortgage interest. I too would have been able to buy a house like that if someone else had been paying the interest on my mortgage and all the running costs.

        • realfish

          Only for 4 years – as other MPs had theirs paid – not for the nearly 20 years that most people have been led to believe by the Telegraph and the Mail.
          And in those 4 years, 1995-1999, house price inflation (even in London) was constrained by Gordon Brown’s crash.

          • dmitri the impostor

            I have read your string of posts defending Miller and am unconvinced to say the least. The original purpose of the ACA was to cover the expenses of *overnight* accommodation in London when the House was sitting late, not leveraged finance for property portfolios. The fact that Parliament hardly ever sits late into the night these days means that the original rationale for the ACA has gone by the board. 4 years or 40 years is nothing to the point. If you wish to labour the fact that there is room for more than one interpretation of the porous ACA ‘rules’ then you are bound to accept that there is room for more than one point of view about exploitation of their vagueness.

            • realfish

              Which is why Miller approached the House authorities to take advice on the appropriate designation of her second home and took their advice. The Standards Committee agreed:

              ‘We agree with the Commissioner that Mrs Miller should properly have designated London as her main home rather than Basingstoke. Nonetheless, we consider that Mrs Miller’s designation was reasonable in the light of the guidance available at the time, given that the matter was finely balanced. Accordingly we make no criticism of Mrs Miller for her error and we will treat this case as if the designation of the London property for ACA purposes had been correct.’

              • Jimble

                Are you the realfish who was accusing me BTL in The Independent: “And you sound like you are making it up as you go along. You haven’t read the report have you.”.

                I’m still awaiting your response, or are you a playground bully deploying hit and run tactics?

                • realfish

                  Yes. No. Not been back to the Indi site or I would have responded.

                  Bully? I’ll leave that to you. Any comments I have made will have been made on the basis of evidence presented in the report. ..not on what I believe or hoped would be in it. I think John Rentoul was trying to put you right also.

                • Jimble

                  Your comment wasn’t evidence-based. Didn’t address anything, just accused me of making stuff up. You’d probably make a good politician.

  • Peter Stroud

    Perhaps Mrs Miller should announce her intention not to stand for Basingstoke next year. Better that than be deselected.

  • Frank

    “..resign with dignity and honour”? Fat chance with anybody making dubious expense claims. It is not over until the CPS investigate her claims and justifications for these claims.
    As for Dave, as always, when under pressure, he crumbles. No10 Downing Street is stuffed with expensive experts, do they not give sensible guidance? If they do, does Cameron reject it? Why, does he not learn from the last cock-ups?

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Like cheap New World plonk DC is neither improving with age (nor time in office).

  • Tom W Huxley

    One of the crew has jumped overboard, but not before standing on the gangplank long enough to weigh down one side of the ship and overturn the whole thing.

  • Pitkapoika

    Once more Nelson you show your naivety

  • jamesbarn
  • Darnell Jackson

    How ironic, Miller sat with Laws in the picture above.

    Entitlement corner!

  • HookesLaw

    Its exposed your own self serving bigotry Mr Nelson. An appalling frenzy of media hysteria aimed at putting the press’ interests before the nations
    It ill behoves anyone in the pay of the likes of the Barclay Brothers to take any kind of moral stance. The sight of The Spectator foaming at the bit to do the Labour party’s bidding is more than sickening. A bad day for the body politic. Why would anyone of any ability or indeed any sense of duty want to be an MP only to be thanked by such a lying baying mob.

    • isthisreallife2

      Let me get this straight. You think Cameron displayed any kind of leadership here?? MP Expenses has long been known to be a hot potato and as soon as John Mann asked for the investigation Cameron should have assembled his advisors and devised a strategy. Fraser has eloquently exposed the plain bald fact that there was no strategy. The Ester McVey interview being a case in point……………………………….

      • Mynydd

        AS soon as John Mann asked for the investigation Cameron should have told Miller to step aside until it was concluded. In business it’s called garden leave.

    • realfish

      And a very bad day for democracy

    • Wessex Man

      Keep on digging Hooky, your incompetent leader strikes again as only he can, why his capacity for the wrong kind of publicity is now nearing Gordon Brown’s, who would have thought that four years ago?

      You and yours can blame the Press all you like, if the mob at Westminister had behaved correctly there would have been no story. The only reason they want to tie the Press up is to be able to carry on as they always have, fiddling while the Uk burns!

    • the viceroy’s gin

      ” Why would anyone of any ability or indeed any sense of duty want to be an MP…?”


      Well, judging by the caliber of your Camerluvvie pals, they don’t want to.

  • @PhilKean1

    A day that Cameron-supporting commentators are again forced to acknowledge his many failings.

    In fact, I seem to remember this particular commentator being angry that Cameron permitted his Chancellor to repeat past mistakes by creating a situation that could only result in an unsustainable house-price bubble.

    I mean, there can surely be no doubt that Cameron’s judgement is easily the worst of any PM in living memory. But, more than that, what has he ever been right about?
    I am not talking about the dubious and “creatively right” credits which are heaped upon him and his Chancellor in order to lifts the spirits of delegates at conferences. No, when has it been shown that Cameron could genuinely look us unashamedly in the eye and say, with righteous confidence, ‘I was right’ ?

    Cameron isn’t the solution, he is the problem. Under a different leader, a Conservative, we would have won the 2010 General Election.

    • Wessex Man

      Vote UKip!

    • HookesLaw

      Don’t talk rubbish. Your memory is very short.
      We have a mainly tory government once again sorting out a Labour mess and again doing excellent work despite the dead weight of the liberal democrats. everything else is nutjob hysreria

      In terms of PMs I can remember Macmillan who sacked his entire treasury team plus several others in a panic.

      Your comment about house prices is without foundation. The Halifax say there is no bubble. Buyers actually pay a fee for the help to buy scheme – its not free money.

      ‘It supported its claim by pointing out that house prices remained 12pc below
      their August 2007 peak and transactions for this year were still around a
      third below the averages for 2006 and 2007.
      It added that house prices are also lower in relation to earnings with the
      average price currently 4.8 times typical annual earnings. This compares
      with a high of 5.8 in 2007 and a long-term average of 4.0 over the last 30

      I think the Halifax knows a bit more about the housing market than your ignorant ramblings – but you and the other thicko nutjobs need these fig-leaves to sustain you in your fantasy and prejudices.

    • TheOldBill

      The worst In living memory? How old are you? Have you forgotten Brown already?

  • HD2

    Why is she still an MP?

    • Wessex Man

      Why arn’t the rozzers paying her a visit?

  • isthisreallife2

    “I’ve spoken to MPs who have been stunned at the sheer disorder in No10, the utter absence of a political operation of the ability to even guess how all this would play out.”

    “The Prime Minister ought, at the very least, to have insisted upon contrition.”

    Fraser, these 2 statements sum up the Tories time in office. The first statement can also be applied to the way they draft their policies – which would explain the vast number of u-turns they have been forced into. In my opinion it boils down to a sense of intellectual superiority and snobbery of the Bullingdon set that means they think they know better and can do as they please without proper consulatation. They announce a policy without “stress-testing” it to see that is practical and workable. They dont think its necessary to do so simply because they believe they can u-turn later. These are schoolboy errors that the likes of Thatcher and Major wouldnt have made in a million years! Meanwhile, they are completely oblivious to the long-term damage to the party being self-inflicted. They are not just now perceived as out-of-touch but more damagingly as incompetent, and actually just not that smart.

    The 2nd statement about the lack of contrition can also be applied to their general reaction to adversity when their policies go wrong. The bedroom tax and failed welfare reforms (especially ATOS) being cases in point. Norman Tebbit had his finger on the pulse when he recently stated that the bedroom tax hadnt been thought through.

    Its now clear that vulnerable people are being hurt by the policy and the complete lack of contrition of IDS who is regularly seen guffawing in parliament when someone raises the issue is absolutely toxic to the Tory brand.

    Its amazing that Ed Miliband doesnt even have to take any risks to maintain his poll lead anymore. He can just sit on the fence and watch the Tories screw up. And we havent even had the Euro elections yet!

  • David Booth.

    Only “Call Me Dave” Cameron could lose the kudos from a pat on the back from the IMF because he was trying to defend a “Creature Like Maria”

  • Tom Tom

    Just to add something Fraser cannot mention because of the DA Notice……..the European Court of Justice ruled that EU laws on retention of phone records were unconstitutional because they monitored persons not suspected of any crime.

    The current GCHQ-NSA regime does not have a legal basis under EU Law…….so why does the UK press not report this ?

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      TT See the Graun today – Law section
      EU court of justice overturns law that would enable ‘snoopers’ charter’

  • Tom Tom

    Put her in the Lords as Dame Maria for “long-service to the Conservative Party” and a couple of City directorships to show how valuable her experience is in certain circles

    • Frank

      Ha, if Dave does make Miller a Baroness, it might well light the blue touch paper!

  • alabenn

    That a minister hangs on for to long before resigning is not a government in shambles, it one small part of a functioning whole, the rest of the government carries on.
    Do you lot in the MSM especially the papers not realise, massive hyperbole like this is part of the reason for declining sales generally.
    What we have here is a Minister in a job because she is female, in a department that should not exist.
    That should be where your outrage should lie, you have not done yourselves any service with anyone.

    • Barakzai

      ‘What we have here is a Minister in a job because she is female, in a department that should not exist.’ Spot on.

    • Tom Tom

      In our Soviet political system Culture like Sport needs Party input and State direction…….anything with England in its name must be subject to political control

    • Roger Clague

      Redefining marriage and censoring the press, which only a few wanted.

  • WatTylersGhost

    “The blame starts with the Prime Minister.”

    What Tosh. The blame rests with Maria Miller for claiming expenses for which she was not entitled. Mr Nelson you seem to believe that the real crime was the political mishandling of the fraud and not the fraud itself. As long a you and Westminster see the problem in these terms, the abuse of expenses by MPs will continue.

    • Kitty MLB

      Wholeheartedly agree and very wisely said, sir.

    • kyalami

      Not entirely tosh. Miller brought her misfortune on herself, but the PM’s cack-handed management did the government damage. He should have insisted on her resignation more than a week ago.

      • WatTylersGhost

        Kyalami, he should have insisted when he became leader that expense cheating was not to be tolerated – he did not, as this would have excluded himself. He has suffered the usual fate of a hypocrite, and it will happen again and again.

        • kyalami

          He should indeed.

    • telemachus

      In addition this reflects badly on the DT that has bullied and hectored only to further its antiregulatory ends

      • Tom Tom

        Free Press bullies Politicians hoping to keep them HONEST

        • telemachus

          The relevant committee had done its work
          This was a power struggle of DT vs PM
          And Cameron lost
          Whatever Gove tells Humphrys

      • WatTylersGhost

        It is to the DT’s credit that it had the bottle to publish the original expenses scandal, which it handled with skill and courage, they have behaved properly in this issue as well. The un-sung heroine Heather Brooke, now almost forgotten, also did this country a huge service.

      • Wessex Man

        tele, hang your head in shame or join Hacked off and off.

        • telemachus

          The issue remains the DT bullying the PM to avoid regulation

          • FrenchNewsonlin

            There (once more) speaks the voice of the totalitarian Left. Enjoyed reading the Leveson free speech Bible did you?

          • ButcombeMan

            Dear boy
            You amuse me greatly, if I am ever slightly under the weather, I can turn to your remarks for a laugh.

            If you really believe that the MM expenses fiddling, hit a nerve with the public because of press regulation, you are as out of touch with the public mood as Cameron.

            There were four Labour members of what might be thought to be a corrupt, self serving committee that (almost), cleared MM.

            They are all in it together. That is what the public think.

            MM was slightly unfortunate perhaps, to get flushed out, she was a neophyte and did what others did, her situation was just slightly more obvious and extreme.

            The public cannot get its head round the state of mind she must have had when she made that very deliberate choice to call her various Basingstoke rentals, her main home.

            Her not getting prosecuted, sticks in the craw, of millions of fair minded people, who see single mums prosecuted for benefit fraud having taken in a man friend without disclosure.

            Maybe Inspector Knacker will remedy it?

      • Bob Hutton

        I disagree with you. A free press is essential to keep politicians accountable especially when they’ve had their hands in the cookie jar.

    • Tom Tom

      Fraser knows that journos fiddle expenses and that his seat is being kept warm by a fiddler

      • David Booth.

        What seat? and who’s bottom is keeping it warm?

      • mechris3

        That is a matter for them and their employers.

    • ButcombeMan

      The big loser is not Miller it is Cameron. His astonishingly hopeless judgement and basic understanding of what ordinary voters think about issues, exposed for all to see.

      He is truly in another world if he does not comprehend the toxicity of expenses fiddling. Nothing in her resignation letter about that either. She resigns because she is a “distraction” not because she should.

      I despair of our politicians

      • MaxSceptic


        Had he acted decisively a week ago it would have been over swiftly and he would be sporting a feather in his cap for prompt and effective action.

        As it is all he has done is demonstrate that he’s ‘lost it’ and given political manna to UKIP.

    • isthisreallife2

      NO. Fraser is bang on. The Miller debacle is a symptom of poor leadership. This would never have happened under Thatcher or even Major. Major was way to smart an operator. He had an affair with Edwina Curry for years without getting caught while successfully peddling the back-to-basics baloney. Under Major we didnt have anything like as many U-turns and there was just better leadership. He had a poisoned chalice though after Thatcher and he no chance of reconciling the differences in the party over Europe. The ERM was a disaster too.

      Cameron by contrast was given a golden opportunity. Labour had the keys when they crashed the car and Cameron simply had to be boring and keep his nose clean and blame everything on Labour. Instead nearly every major poilcy area has been a disaster:

      1) Murdoch and press regulation
      2) Syria
      3) Welfare reform
      4) Health
      5) Economy
      6) Royal Mail privatisation
      7) Green policy and floods
      8) Plenty of others too………….

      And it looks like in the near future the attempt to rush through the East Coast Railway privatisation and HS2 are going to end in tears too.

      • WatTylersGhost

        So, it’s all ok as long as you don’t get found out. The public expects better.

        • isthisreallife2

          Thats not the point. The issue here isnt about the Prime Ministers integrity but his COMPETENCE. Obviously Fraser nor myself are trying to excuse Millers behaviour.

          • Wessex Man

            It’s the point to me and most people, he is incompetent and has shown a complete lack of judgement as usual.

            • isthisreallife2

              Eh? So you are agreeing with me then right?

          • Tear

            Agreed! The fact that Cameron thought that the independent members of the committee that adjudged this fiasco had a “Vote” said it all for me!

          • Baron

            The boy seems multi-talented in reverse, he has neither integrity, nor any capacity for competence. Without much efforts, one can come up with other ‘lacks of’, like judgment, consistency, thinking but then what would one expect from the former Chairman of the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association.

      • FrenchNewsonlin

        Major just got lucky. There was no Internet in his day!

    • 2trueblue

      The blame rests with every MP in the house. The last government did nothing to clean out the house of cheats and the blame rests very much with them. How much did J Smith pay back for ‘renting’ a room in her sisters house? Sure her apology was longer but is that how we judge it? The whole area needs revisiting.