David Cameron’s support of Maria Miller was commendable but wrong

The week-long saga has exposed a worrying lack of political judgement in Mr Cameron's operation, writes Alistair Thompson

The embattled Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has bowed to the inevitable and announced her resignation after a week of negative and profoundly damaging headlines.

I am sure that in No 10 there will be many of the PM’s advisers who will be breathing a sigh of relief that this scandal is finally over, but they should not get too excited, as this whole sorry saga has exposed a worrying lack of political judgement in Mr Cameron’s operation.

For the last seven days there have been two big questions in Westminster. Would Maria Miller resign after admitting to abusing her expenses? Or would the PM sack her?

We now know the answer to both, but they have caused consternation among Tory backbenchers.

Why did the PM and his team try to cling onto Miller, in the face of almost universal criticism of her initial actions and revulsion over the alleged bullying of the independent Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, and investigating journalists?

And why did, Miller’s talented PPS, Mary Macleod, launch such an ill-fated and ill-thought through counter attack? Was it a put a job from Team Dave?

It certainly backfired, as Macleod took to the airwaves to make a series of increasingly bizarre allegations against the media and members of the public who had called for Miller to step down.

This intervention merely served to stoke up the story that until yesterday could easily have run out of steam. Despite polls by ComRes, Survation and Conservative Home confirming a lack of support for her position and an absence of vocal support from members of the Cabinet, Miller was still in place.

The counter-offensive also exposed a worryingly lack of self awareness at No 10. The public anger against Miller had nothing to do with gay marriage or Leveson, although it did remind us that the former Culture Secretary’s Special Adviser had threatened journalists. The backlash had everything to do with the fact that those paid from the public purse must at all times ensure that they abide not only by the rules but also by the spirit of the rules, especially when they are our elected leaders.

It was also clear that the Culture Secretary’s off-hand apology and lack of contrition was a spectacular miscalculation of the public mood and even the mood of her colleagues in Parliament.

Then there was the almost blind support from Cameron himself, which has left many Conservatives scratching their heads. There were those who suggested this was because Cameron has a woman problem and sacking one of the few in Cabinet would send out the wrong message. This of course is nonsense, as the PM could easily have promoted Esther McVey or Liz Truss.

No the truth, I suspect, is the intense sense of loyalty that Cameron feels to those in his Cabinet. He has after all said repeatedly that the constant reshuffling of ministers in the Blair years was bad for effective Government.

What was was a huge mistake was for the PM to make this issue about his own leadership. As he made abundantly clear it is he chooses who is in his Cabinet or not. This makes the resignation a bitter blow to his personal authority.

The big question now is how quickly can Mr Cameron draw a line under this crisis and move on?

Expect this issue to feature in today’s PMQs, at this evening’s 1922 Committee and in the papers tomorrow.

But even after this until there is further action to fix the expenses system, these problems will never go away for long. Again this is a problem for Mr Cameron as promised to fix a system that did so much damage to the reputation of Parliament and MPs.

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Alistair Thompson

Managing Director at Media Intelligence Partners
Alistair joined MIP in 2007 having previously worked as a journalist. He is a senior Conservative member on Portsmouth City Council and former parliamentary candidate.

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