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Maria Miller and the anatomy of a Tory row

7 April 2014

8:42 AM

7 April 2014

8:42 AM

The papers are trying to keep the momentum going in the Maria Miller row this morning, with a fresh angle in the Telegraph. Such is the seriousness of an adviser’s threat that a valid investigation into a politician’s expenses could restrict the freedom of the press, and such was the inflammatory nature of her non-apology apology that the press will be very keen to keep the row going until some sort of conclusion or concession from the Tory leadership. Likewise, David Cameron is sufficiently stubborn on these matters that he will continue waiting until the row dies down.

Last night a group called Conservative Grassroots called on Miller to go with immediate effect. But this group has long opposed gay marriage and has links to the Bow Group, whose members also opposed the measure that Miller led on as a minister (it is, however, quite separate to another group apparently representing the Tory membership which is also called Conservative Grassroots. The People’s Front of Judea could provide some useful branding advice). This complicates the situation and the Prime Minister is standing by his minister partly because he does not want to see a combination of newspapers angry about press regulation and Conservatives still smarting from the introduction of same-sex marriage driving Miller out.

What complicates this issue further in the eyes of the Parliamentary Conservative party is that many MPs hate any row over expenses. Some have had their own painful clashes over their own affairs since 2009, others are still sustaining abuse from constituents and the media for their part (or their predecessor’s part) in the original scandal. Expenses tends to make the Tory party bunch together for safety.

The Miller row does bear a number of striking similarities to the early days of the Andrew Mitchell saga. The Prime Minister was then quick to back his chief whip, then called for the media to move on. But colleagues within the party started to stoke the story by briefing against Mitchell and support among MPs began to ebb away, forcing him out. We are not at that final stage. But MPs who I spoke to over the weekend who are currently supportive of Miller feel that this week’s 1922 Committee meeting will – as was the case with Andrew Mitchell – be crucial in determining whether this row quietens down or whether it becomes a great deal more serious. But one MP pointed out to me that ‘quite a lot regret rushing to judgement on Mitchell, so she may get more support’. It will be interesting to see whether the party has learned from the Mitchell saga. So far the PM at least seems to be conforming to the same pattern.

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