Why I’m not raising my pitch-fork in jubilant celebration at Maria Miller’s resignation

by Stephen Tall on April 9, 2014

Maria Miller has resigned as the Coalition’s culture secretary. The reaction of most people will probably be the same as Labour MP John Mann, whose complaint triggered her downfall: “about time”.

Not me.

The Independent’s John Rentoul summarised it very well in his blog-post yesterday, In Partial Defence of Maria Miller:

I think Miller probably made an honest mistake in failing to adjust her claims when her mortgage payments went down, which she compounded by her truculence when she was investigated by Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Commissioner. In a sane world, a contrite apology, a repayment and an additional fine (for obstruction and to acknowledge that the error in her favour was discovered only as the result of journalists’ enquiries) would have been sufficient.

But we don’t live in a sane world. Maria Miller’s failure to fake a sincere apology, compounded by Number 10’s inept handling of the media, made her resignation sadly inevitable. They handled this whole thing badly – from the half-minute apology to her decision to out-source to her aide Mary Macleod her defence.

But the British press in full-on, mob-handed, sanctimonious blood-lust mode is a pretty revolting sight. Based on the newspapers’ coverage, most of the public will have assumed Maria Miller set out deliberately to defraud the British taxpayer for personal gain, that she is corrupt.

There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that’s the case. But, egged-on by the press in search of a scalp, the court of public opinion had already found her guilty anyway. ‘Scuse me if I don’t raise my pitch-fork in jubilant celebration.

This episode has taken me back in time.

First, to the harsh justice meted out in 2010 to David Laws, who under-claimed his own expenses in order to hide his sexuality from the public gaze – and has ever since been lazily condemned as a ‘fraudster’ by those who can’t be bothered to check the facts.

And then to the original Telegraph investigation into MPs’ expenses, in 2009. As I wrote then:

… amidst the appalling abuses, genuine scandals and likely frauds that our MPs have committed with our money, the Telegraph has also been guilty of flaky fact-checking, unfair distortions and disgraceful smears. … Too many of their expenses stories have failed to stand up to even the most basic scrutiny that I find it hard to take any at face value. … What’s worse, though, is that the Telegraph allegations have been uncritically repeated, sometimes with further unproven exaggerations, by other news media – print and broadcast – scared to be caught behind the curve, and fearful that any attempt to question the Telegraph’s reporting competence will come across as defending ‘these scrounging MPs’.

Much of the media, and too many journalists, are uninterested in facts – whether the issue is MPs’ expenses or immigration. Why are they not interested? Follow the money: we, the public, are ultimately to blame.

We not only get the politicians we deserve; we get the press we deserve, too.

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5 comments

I agree wholeheartedly. Of course what this proves is the argument against self-regulation. Which the press don’t seem to realise.

by Gail Bones on April 9, 2014 at 10:49 am. Reply #

[…] You may also want to read Stephen Tall’s take on this. He argues that the press have ignored the facts as they pursued Maria Miller and he’s not […]

by Maria Miller resigns – but is that all that needs to happen? on April 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm. Reply #

I agree about some of the hysteria but it should not be that difficult to follow the rules for claiming expenses.

by Robert Phillips on April 9, 2014 at 7:50 pm. Reply #

So ms Miller made a mistake over her expense claims, no doubt like the other 453 MPs who had to repay expenses claims like moat cleaning and duck pond furniture etc etc. laws did not under claim his expenses. Expenses are not an entitlement, they must be wholly warranted in the course of you employment. If our MPs have been so badly treated by the press why have they not sued ? I suggest that you step out of your little bubble and smell the grass

by Jack on April 9, 2014 at 10:29 pm. Reply #

I agree with you about the press but I don’t agree with you about Maria Miller. She did break the rules and repaid money that she was bound to repay. That of itself might not be too much of an issue. But she displayed absolute arrogance and persistent obfuscation when dealing with the commissioner, and then – apparently – found evidence of extra mortgage costs that she gave to the committee months after she could have given them to the commissioner. She remains unable to give evidence from her diary of what nights she spent when. Someone somewhere, I forget who, has contrasted this tellingly with Jackie Smith who apparently painstakingly went through her diaries to provide nightly evidence of where she was. The impression I have is not that the evidence was not there but that Miller could not be bothered to compile it.

And then there was the “apology” to the Commons, which gave a whole new meaning to the word perfunctory.

If she had co-operated with the commissioner, repaid the money and properly apologised, there would not be a problem. The problem is the self centredness, the sense of entitlement and the arrogance of her approach after the fact. You don’t need press vindictiveness or gay marriage to explain the story. She gave the press, and the public, every reason to want her gone, and I am glad that she has finally fallen, or been pushed, whichever it was.

by Rob Parsons on April 10, 2014 at 10:50 am. Reply #

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