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 NS leader: Cold Britannia

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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