In Depth

Maria Miller: trial of strength as Norman Tebbit wades into row

As Thatcherites vent their feelings, new polls show Cameron has lost the 'Budget bounce'

THE growing demands for the resignation of Culture Secretary Maria Miller are no longer just to do with her false expenses claim and the shame it has brought on Parliament. It's now a trial of strength between the right wing of the Tory party and David Cameron over his and Miller's 'liberal' politics.

Lord (Norman) Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman who still carries the torch for Margaret Thatcher, is the latest senior Tory to demand that Cameron sacks her.

He didn't say it, but it is well known that Tebbit and others on the right see Miller as a symbol of everything they dislike about Cameron and his insistence on modernising the party.

She was in charge of the government's gay marriage legislation which they vehemently oppose, and it has been her responsibility to push through press reform post-Leveson, which they see as unwelcome state intervention.

On the latter issue, they have the right-wing press very much on side. 

Tebbit used his Daily Telegraph blog to demand Miller's resignation while the Daily Mail today carries a double-page spread on the "dream" £1.2 million converted barn she has bought with the proceeds of the £1.4 million sale of what she claimed was her second home in Wimbledon, south London. (She listed her primary residence as a rented home in her Hampshire constituency.)

Miller was criticised by Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, for failing to cooperate fully with her investigation into Miller's expenses claims on the Wimbledon house.

Hudson recommended she repay £45,000 of the £90,000 allowance to cover mortgage interest but MPs on the Commons Standards Committee vetoed her recommendation and requested Miller pay back only £4,500.

Fellow Tory Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith claimed on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the attacks on Miller amount to a "witch hunt".

The Daily Mirror scoffs at this, saying: "The barrel-scraping Tories came up with another pathetic excuse yesterday for expenses scandal minister Maria Miller – she is being attacked by homophobes."

Whatever you call it, the right wing is on the rampage and Cameron is refusing to bow to the demands to sack Miller because he knows it will weaken his position.

How long the Prime Minister can afford to stick by his Culture Secretary is a moot point. Some 78 per cent of respondents in a Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday said she should lose her Cabinet seat.

And that's not the only miserable polling Cameron and his team are having to mull over this morning: new opinion polls show the so-called 'Budget bounce' has entirely disappeared. 

A fortnight ago, both YouGov and Survation showed Labour were down to a one-point lead over the Tories in the wake of George Osborne's Budget boost for savers and pensioners.

Now YouGov has Labour back with a five-point lead (and the Lib Dems struggling on nine, behind Ukip on 12) while Survation [7]has Labour ahead by an even bigger margin of seven points.

Ed Miliband will keep banging on about the Tory Cabinet being a out of touch with the cost of living crisis of ordinary people. And now he can point to that double-page spread in the Mail - of all papers - to support his argument.

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