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Downing Street’s Maria Miller dilemma

13 December 2012

3:18 PM

13 December 2012

3:18 PM

There was a time during the Leveson Inquiry when Jeremy Hunt’s departure from the government was treated as almost inevitable by the media, including yours truly. But Number 10 backed him. He survived and was then promoted in the reshuffle. When it eventually came out, the Leveson Report made only minor criticisms of him and cleared him of the most serious charges against him. This has confirmed Number 10 in its view that most media squalls blow themselves out in time.

But the Cameroons have always accepted that MPs’ expenses is a toxic subject with the public. Cameron made a fair number of enemies on the backbenches, with the hard-line stance he took on the issue, albeit once the expenses scandal had broken.

Downing Street would be loath to lose Miller for three reasons. First, they wouldn’t want to be giving the press a scalp—particularly given Leveson and the extent of the tensions between Downing Street and the media over this story. Second, Miller is an ideal person to pilot the gay marriage legislation through. She’s courteous not confrontational and isn’t seen as a social liberal by colleagues. Third, Miller is one of only four female secretaries of state.

Miller’s future now turns on the investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards into her expenses. But I expect that—for the reasons above—she would be able to weather some criticism from him. Indeed, Baroness Warsi survived parts of a complaint against her by being upheld by the Lords Commissioner for Standards.

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