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.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.