Culture Secretary Maria Miller leaves Number 10 Downing Street on December 3, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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It just gets worse for Maria Miller - how long can she survive?

Under fire from her colleagues and the voters, the Culture Secretary is surely now considering whether all sides would be best served by her falling on her sword. 

Five days after Maria Miller's non-apology, her position looks ever more vulnerable. Esther McVey, one of those tipped to replace her as culture secretary, last night became the first minister to criticise her actions, telling ITV's The Agenda: "I can honestly say it wouldn’t be how I would have made an apology. But different people have different styles and do things in different ways."

Meanwhile, Graham Brady, the head of the backbench 1922 committeee, has warned David Cameron that MPs from across the party want Miller to be sacked (with one describing the story as "absolutely toxic"), a change.org petition calling for her to "either pay back £45,000 in fraudulent expense claims or resign" has received more than 130,000 signatures, and, to top it all, David Laws has popped up on the Today programme to helpfully offer his "support". By contrast, while expressing his "natural sympathy", Boris Johnson declined to say she should remain in her post: "My natural sympathy goes out to people in a hounded situation - how about that?" 

While refusing to criticise Miller directly, cabinet ministers are also making it clear that whether she stays or goes is a decision for Cameron alone. Dominic Grieve said: "She’s a valued colleague, as far as I’m concerned, but she has got to answer to her constituents and also answer for her responsibilities to the Prime Minister." And Iain Duncan Smith commented: "No one is above the law, that is the only point I would make. There have been big sanctions and a number of people who have misrepresented themselves in the parliamentary system have now gone to prison...I’m not going to judge this particular case because this is a complex issue."

The pressure on Cameron to dismiss Miller, and stem the bleeding, has certainly intensified over the last 24 hours. But it remains far from certain that the PM will be moved to act. Cameron is famously stubborn in his defence of under-fire colleagues (recall how long he stood by Andy Coulson) and rarely misses an opportunity not to wield the knife (as the continued cabinet presence of Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and Iain Duncan Smith demonstrates). That the blitzkrieg against Miller is partly (or even largely) due to her role in promoting press regulation and equal marriage is only likely toincrease his determination to protect her. 

And while the complaints of the 1922 committee (which the PM will address tomorrow) cannot be dismissed out of hand, Cameron's position, owing to the economic recovery and the narrowing of Labour's poll lead, is stronger than it has been for years. Reflecting this changed reality, Tory rebel Andrew Bridgen yesterday wrote to Brady withdrawing his letter of no confidence in the PM. 

But the longer the row persists, the harder it will be for Miller to reasonably remain in her post. The Culture Secretary has been pulling out of scheduled appearances and interviews and reportedly made the "quickest ever" entrance into Downing Street this morning. In these circumstances, Miller is surely now considering whether all sides would be best served by her falling on her sword. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era