The fateful story of Maria Miller, scourge of the Tory heartlands
How Cameron's Culture Secretary found herself at centre of gay marriage fiasco and Leveson fallout
CULTURE SECRETARY Maria Miller, who is responsible for "ripping the Tory Party apart" over gay marriage if you believe UKIP leader Nigel Farage, should never have been at the centre of the same-sex marriage storm, according to the Mole's sources.
The Mole has been informed by a well-placed ministerial source that David Cameron had intended to put the former Transport Secretary Justine Greening into the Culture job in the last reshuffle, but changed his mind at the last minute because Greening had a "furious rant" at the Prime Minister for moving her.
"There is no doubt that Greening was going to the Culture Department, before she lost her cool," said the source.
For her punishment, Greening was shunted off by Cameron to Overseas Development, and Miller was catapulted into her Cabinet seat at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which meant she is now at the eye of the storm over the fallout from the Leveson Report as well as the gay marriage fiasco.
That may explain why Miller, a former public relations executive, has at times sounded like an "I speak your weight" machine while the storm rages around her.
Trying to explain the legal details to BBC radio PM presenter Eddie Mair, number 56 on The Independent's gay list, she resorted to broad assurances that churches would not be open to legal challenge, saying it was "beyond doubt" they would be protected while refusing to say it was "impossible".
She also sounded vague when Mair asked whether the law would cover consummation or adultery, like heterosexual marriage laws. Miller suggested the detail was still being sorted out. "Look we have looked at these sorts of things in detail," she said. "We will be looking at them in more detail when the bill goes to the committee stage. I can be clear when it comes to issues of adultery and consummation, these are issues that relate to heterosexual marriage, they won't apply to same-sex marriage."
It's not her fault if she's been landed by Cameron with mission impossible, but it can only get worse. As The Guardian reports today, UKIP leader Nigel Farage says he plans to exploit the unrest in local Conservative associations to drive a wedge between Cameron/Miller and the Tories in the shires to gain more support for his breakaway party.
"David Cameron's proposal has the potential to rip apart the traditional rural Tory vote," says Farage. "We feel the Prime Minister's proposals will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw.
"The division between city and rural is absolutely huge. In my village pub in Kent they are just completely against."
No wonder Miller's office is losing patience with hostile parts of the press. The Daily Telegraph reports today that when it raised questions over Maria Miller's expenses (specifically, her parents' use of her taxpayer-funded second home), Miller's special adviser, Joanna Hindley, warned the reporter to consider the Culture Secretary's role in implementing the Leveson Report before publishing such a story.
"Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment," Hindley told the Telegraph reporter. "So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about."
Hindley also said the reporter should discuss the issue with "people a little higher up your organisation" before writing the story.
The Daily Telegraph went ahead anyway having discovered that Miller claimed £90,000 in expenses from the taxpayer on a double-fronted terrace house in an upmarket south London suburb which she and her husband, a partner in a city law firm, bought in January 1996 for £234,000 - even though her parents live in it.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has previously ruled that second homes must be "exclusively" for the use of MPs in fulfilling their parliamentary duties and that housing a politician's parents was "specifically prohibited" by the rules.
When Miller was quizzed about her expenses claims by Eddie Mair, she said: "I don't know why this has come out now..." seeming to imply that she feels the timing of the expenses story might be designed to undermine her credibility just when she's pushing through the controversial proposals for same-sex marriage. But the Mole couldn't possibly say that for certain - he doesn't want Miller's special adviser calling in the Exterminator. ·