Senior 1922 Committee members are quite surprised by the suggestion that tomorrow’s end-of-term meeting with the Prime Minister represents the deadline for the Maria Miller problem to be resolved. But while you won’t find a Tory backbencher who thinks the impact on the public of this story is negligible – one tells me that ‘whatever happens now, we are losers’ – there’s an interesting attitude among Miller’s own Cabinet colleagues. They had long suspected that she was vulnerable in any forthcoming reshuffle anyway, with one describing her as ‘a bit quiet’ in meetings and another suspecting that she was ‘damaged goods’ after Leveson and with the media after her anyway. The naivety of the threat to the Telegraph by her adviser is something Cabinet ministers remark on, too, with one saying ‘I’ve long realised that that kind of thing doesn’t work anyway and I have no idea what the plan was there’. One senior Tory says:
‘She rose quickly and without really making a name. A few of us didn’t think she’d earned her spurs before getting into Cabinet.’
Since her non-apology apology, there has been a strange lack of enthusiasm for Miller among her Cabinet colleagues. Even those who I’ve spoken to who think she should stay aren’t exactly trembling at the thought of her leaving the government. They seem to lack much respect for her. One Cabinet colleague observes that it’s a lesson in making and keeping friends on the way up, which suggests that Miller hasn’t managed to do this herself. Other ministers who did survive their own rows, like Jeremy Hunt, had strong friendships across government and a PPS who was very active indeed (in a rather unsubtle way at times) in garnering further support. If Miller does leave in the reshuffle, it doesn’t look as though many of those she works with will be particularly gutted.
But what some senior ministers with long careers have observed is that this is going beyond a row about expenses and is becoming about David Cameron’s own character and what one Conservative describes as ‘his lack of a commitment to a meritocracy’. The ‘Mark Miller‘ theory that she’d be gone by now were she a man does prevail among Tory MPs, but what also prevails is that she’s a gonner in the reshuffle. James suggested yesterday that shunting her to the Wales Office would insult the Welsh – and it would also upset Tory MPs sitting in Welsh marginal seats who would worry that this insult to the Welsh would lead to them bleeding votes in a tough battle.
As for tomorrow’s 1922 Committee meeting, now being billed as a crunch point in the row, the issue will inevitably be raised in the private meeting between chair Graham Brady, his officers and David Cameron. Brady has received many representations from MPs concerned about the impact on marginal seats and the distraction that this row is creating from the successful Budget. But the question is who will bring it up in the full meeting that takes place afterwards? Most MPs have had some woe with expenses: it will be a brave backbencher, probably from the 2010 intake, who confronts the PM with the Miller row.
P.S. The matter was not raised at this morning’s Cabinet, the PM’s official spokesman told us today. He also declined to say whether or not the Prime Minister had spoken to Miller since her apology on Thursday – although yesterday he said ‘not to my recollection’ when asked the same question.