Maria Miller arrives at 10 Downing Street to attend a cabinet meeting yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Maria Miller resigns as culture secretary

Read her resignation letter and David Cameron's response. 

Ahead of PMQs and a meeting of the Conservative 1922 committee tonight, Maria Miller has finally fallen on her sword. Below is her resignation letter and David Cameron's reply.

Only on Tuesday, Cameron said: "Maria Miller is in her job and she is doing a good job as Culture Secretary. Also, she went through this process and the committee found that she had made a mistake in her mortgage claims. She paid back money. She made an apology and that’s the right thing to do. We ought to remember she was found innocent of the claim that was levelled at her". 

But as I noted yesterdayher position looked untenable. Esther McVey, 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." Graham Brady, the head of the 1922 commitee warned Cameron that MPs from across the party wanted her 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" received more than 130,000 signatures, and, to top it all, David Laws popped up on the Today programme to helpfully offer his "support". 

There will now be a cabinet reshuffle with Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan and Liz Truss the frontrunners to become Culture Secretary. 

Update: 8:18am Labour has just issued its response. A spokesman said: "It is welcome that Maria Miller has finally done the right thing. By resigning she has recognised that the public expect and deserve the highest standards from politicians.

"Labour said all along that you cannot have one rule for a Cabinet minister and one rule for everybody else.

"That it came to this raises questions for David Cameron whose judgement has been found wanting. Yet again he has shown himself to be out of touch and a prime minister who only stands up for one of his own". 

LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER

9 April 2014

Dear Prime Minister,

It is with great regret that I have decided that I should tender my resignation as a member of the Cabinet.

I am very grateful to you for your personal support but it has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this Government is doing to turn our country around.

I have been a member of the Conservative Party for more than 30 years. As a working mother, educated at a South Wales Comprehensive School, I know that it is our Party that understands the importance of giving everyone the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they come from.

I am immensely proud of what my team have been able to achieve during my time in Government: ensuring that our arts and cultural institutions receive the rightful recognition that they deserve in making Britain Great; putting women front and centre of every aspect of DCMS’s work; putting in place the legislation to enable all couples to have the opportunity to marry regardless of their sexuality.

Of course, implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on the future of media regulation, following the phone hacking scandals, would always be controversial for the press. Working together with you, I believe we struck the right balance between protecting the freedom of the press and ensuring fairness, particularly for victims of press intrusion to have a clear right of redress.

I will continue to support you and the work of the Government as you move forward. Ensuring the best future for the people of Basingstoke has been my priority throughout the last 9 years. Whether on the front or back benches of the House of Commons I will continue this work.

The only reason I was able to become an MP and indeed a Government Minister and Cabinet Minister is because of the unstinting support of my husband, my mother, my father and my three children. I owe them all a great deal.

Maria Miller

REPLY FROM THE PRIME MINISTER

9 April 2014

Dear Maria,

Thank you for your letter. I was very sorry to receive it.

I think it is important to be clear that the Committee on Standards cleared you of the unfounded allegations made against you, a point which has been lost in much of the comment in recent days.

You can be extremely proud of your work in Government – as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as Minister for Women and as Minister for Disabled People.

You have been responsible for successfully handling two of the most controversial issues with which this Government has dealt. As Culture Secretary, you have played a critical role in advancing Britain’s proud record of respect and equality in piloting the Equal Marriage Act through Parliament and onto the Statute Book. There are many people in our country today, and there will be many in the future, who will always be grateful for this very important change, which you did so much to bring about. You have also handled the sensitive subject of press regulation with skill and dedication.

You can be very proud as well that you have led one of the most important infrastructure projects: many more premises are now able to access super-fast broadband . You have also ensured a lasting legacy for the Olympic Games.

As you leave the Government, you should be proud of your service on the Frontbench and in Opposition.

I am personally very grateful for the support you have always given me, and which I am sure that you will continue to give.  I hope that you will be able to return to serving the Government on the Frontbench in due course, and am only sad that you are leaving the Government in these circumstances.

David Cameron

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.