Maria Miller's attack on BBC independence should be resisted

The Culture Secretary's decision to challenge the BBC to take "further action" against tennis commentator John Inverdale is an abuse of power.

Maria Miller's decision to write to the BBC asking what "further action" it plans to take against John Inverdale over his comments about Wimbledon women's champion Marion Bartoli ("never going to be a looker") has won the Culture Secretary rare praise from liberals, but it's not an act they should be applauding. 

No one should defend Inverdale's casual misogyny (and few have) but it is for the corporation, not government ministers, to decide how it disciplines its staff. The principle of BBC independence is too important to be sacrificed on a whim. Inverdale has, as Miller concedes, already apologised "both on-air, and directly in writing to Ms Bartoli" but she still views it as fit to call for his head (without quite summoning the chutzpah to say so).

On his LBC phone-in show this morning, Nick Clegg wisely declined to endorse her criticism and BBC director general Tony Hall has rightly signalled in his response that he regards the matter as closed. Miller's decision to dredge up a two-week-old row likely has more to do with her desire to avoid being shuffled out of the cabinet than any sincere concern for women's rights. It's also not the first time she's taken aim at the principle of a free media. When the Telegraph reported that she claimed £90,000 for a second home where her parents lived, one of Miller's advisers responded in the manner of a Soviet censor by reminding the paper of "the minister's role in implementing the Leveson report". 

In seeking to save her job, Miller has only succeeded in again demonstrating why she is unfit to hold it. 

Culture Secretary leaves Number 10 Downing Street on December 3, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.