Listen: Fraser Nelson, James Forysth and Isabel Hardman discuss Miller’s resignation
In the past few minutes, Maria Miller has resigned. The issue wasn’t going to go away, thanks in no small part to the way that the Culture Secretary and Number 10 had handled the story. A lack of contrition in the Chamber last Thursday coupled with the Prime Minister’s ‘warm support’ for his minister gave the impression that no-one at the centre of the government saw how this would play with voters. It is significant that those MPs who did break cover and criticise her all focused on the nature and quality of her apology in the Commons, not the detail of her expenses claims per se.
As Miller says in her letter, ‘the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this Government is doing to turn our country around’: yesterday the IMF upgraded the UK’s growth forecast, but this further evidence that George Osborne had survived his own ‘364 economists‘ moment was largely ignored. Her own second non-apology in her local paper, in which she told her constituents that she had let them down but added that she had ‘already apologised’ and her aide Mary Macleod’s messy attempt to rescue her boss by alleging a witch hunt stoked the story further. Ed Miliband could have monstered David Cameron today at Prime Minister’s Questions, and Tory MPs could have feasted on the remains at the 1922 Committee meeting tonight, but even getting Miller over the finishing line to recess would be no good: leaving MPs in their constituencies with angry voters would be far more damaging than letting them buzz about in Portcullis House.
Here is the exchange of letters between the Culture Secretary and David Cameron:
LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER
9 April 2014
Dear Prime Minister,
It is with great regret that I have decided that I should tender my resignation as a member of the Cabinet.
I am very grateful to you for your personal support but it has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this Government is doing to turn our country around.
I have been a member of the Conservative Party for more than 30 years. As a working mother, educated at a South Wales Comprehensive School, I know that it is our Party that understands the importance of giving everyone the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they come from.
I am immensely proud of what my team have been able to achieve during my time in Government: ensuring that our arts and cultural institutions receive the rightful recognition that they deserve in making Britain Great; putting women front and centre of every aspect of DCMS’s work; putting in place the legislation to enable all couples to have the opportunity to marry regardless of their sexuality.
Of course, implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on the future of media regulation, following the phone hacking scandals, would always be controversial for the press. Working together with you, I believe we struck the right balance between protecting the freedom of the press and ensuring fairness, particularly for victims of press intrusion to have a clear right of redress.
I will continue to support you and the work of the Government as you move forward. Ensuring the best future for the people of Basingstoke has been my priority throughout the last 9 years. Whether on the front or back benches of the House of Commons I will continue this work.
The only reason I was able to become an MP and indeed a Government Minister and Cabinet Minister is because of the unstinting support of my husband, my mother, my father and my three children. I owe them all a great deal.
REPLY FROM THE PRIME MINISTER
9 April 2014
Thank you for your letter. I was very sorry to receive it.
I think it is important to be clear that the Committee on Standards cleared you of the unfounded allegations made against you, a point which has been lost in much of the comment in recent days.
You can be extremely proud of your work in Government – as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as Minister for Women and as Minister for Disabled People.
You have been responsible for successfully handling two of the most controversial issues with which this Government has dealt. As Culture Secretary, you have played a critical role in advancing Britain’s proud record of respect and equality in piloting the Equal Marriage Act through Parliament and onto the Statute Book. There are many people in our country today, and there will be many in the future, who will always be grateful for this very important change, which you did so much to bring about. You have also handled the sensitive subject of press regulation with skill and dedication.
You can be very proud as well that you have led one of the most important infrastructure projects: many more premises are now able to access super-fast broadband . You have also ensured a lasting legacy for the Olympic Games.
As you leave the Government, you should be proud of your service on the Frontbench and in Opposition.
I am personally very grateful for the support you have always given me, and which I am sure that you will continue to give. I hope that you will be able to return to serving the Government on the Frontbench in due course, and am only sad that you are leaving the Government in these circumstances.
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.