Maria Miller quits: three good reasons why she had to go
The scandal was losing the Tories votes, damaging the PM and overshadowing positive economic news
MARIA MILLER resigned this morning as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport because she had become a distraction, she admitted in her letter of resignation to David Cameron.
Her letter came as a big relief for the Conservatives because the row over her expenses claims and her grudging apology threatened to cost them votes in the local and European elections on 22 May and had completely overshadowed the economic “good news” released yesterday.
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said Cameron was prepared to defend Miller at Prime Minister's Questions today but she told him late last night that she wanted to go, after he returned from the Buckingham Palace banquet for the Irish president.
Has the announcement come too late to stop the damage to Cameron?
He is accused – not for the first time - of a lack of judgment in his insistence that Miller was cleared of fiddling her expenses by fellow MPs on the Commons standards committee and there was no need to resign. He is also accused of a total misreading of public sentiment about MPs who exploit the expenses rules to their advantage.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, denied on Radio 4's Today programme that Cameron would be damaged by the affair. He praised Cameron for being “loyal” to Miller. "This virtue of loyalty will be viewed by some as a weakness but in my eyes it’s a strength."
Gove said he was surprised by the news and “saddened” by her decision but “the pressure on Maria was growing very very intense – I spoke briefly to the Prime Minister this morning and my understanding is that this was entirely Maria’s decision."
However Gove admitted that "the political class" needs to be better attuned to public sentiment. "This is a judgment on the political class overall, it’s a warning to us to take these issues incredibly seriously and recognise there is a level of public trust and the capacity of MPs to police themselves that does need to be addressed."
But Tory grandee Lord (Norman) Tebbit, who has been adamant that Miller should quit, was clear this morning: "It has damaged the prime minister."
John Mann, the Labour MP who led the campaign for her resignation, said on Today: "The cynical truth is that this is hurting the Conservative party on the doorstep and there are elections coming up. They are losing votes through this - that is why she had to go. She’s clearly been told that her position was untenable."
He said “large numbers” of Tory MPs with marginal seats were against her, and it was due to “explode” at tonight's address by the PM to the 1922 Committee, when he gives his eve-of-Easter-holidays pep talk to backbenchers. The Mole understands that it was the 2010 post-expenses-scandal intake of Tory MPs who were particularly eager for her to go.
Another factor was that Prime Ministers Questions is at mid-day today and Ed Miliband was expected to have a field day if Miller was still in place.
Mann said: "She has gone to save the Prime Minister even more embarrassment at Prime Minister’s Questions but he needs to take this opportunity to change the system of self-regulation of MPs by MPs [on expenses] before 12 noon. I hope he takes it."
Cameron is now expected to shift the attention to the reforms of the system under which MPs can veto the recommendations of the watchdog over the MPs’ expenses, as happened in the Miller case.
Cameron will have to replace Miller quickly in a mini-reshuffle. The Mole hears Miller was not his first choice for the job anyway – that was Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, but she shot her mouth off before the last major reshuffle about her resistance to the new High Speed 2 rail link and was moved instead to Overseas Development.
However, Greening is not expected to get the job: Nick Robinson says he's been told the appointment will come from outside the current Cabinet.
The man most eager for this to be resolved was Chancellor George Osborne. He was reportedly furious that the Miller expenses row drowned out the IMF’s forecast that Britain will be the fastest growing leading economy this year. The IMF predicted that UK growth will reach 2.9 per cent, the fastest in the G7, and then 2.5 per cent in 2015.
Meanwhile there are still loose ends. There are those who say that even having resigned, Miller should still pay back £45,000 in expenses for what she claimed was her second home.
And her resignation also means Mary Macleod, her special adviser, has to go. She was criticised for saying that Miller was being attacked because of "Leveson and equal marriage" and that journalists were "harassing" her family.