Team Miller blames expenses uproar on press 'witch-hunt'

Maria Miller leaves No 10 after today's Cabinet meeting
Maria Miller leaves No 10 after today's Cabinet meeting
Alex Stevenson By

Maria Miller is being pursued by the press because of her role in implementing press regulation and support of equal marriage, her parliamentary aide has claimed.

Mary Macleod appeared on Sky News after it emerged she had texted Conservative MPs appealing for their support on the basis that "I believe there is a media witch-hunt on Maria due to Levesen [sic]".

It follows Miller's special adviser having threatened a national newspaper journalist before the original publication of the story about her expenses claims by linking the issue with the government's response to the Leveson inquiry.

"I want the public to know the real story," Macleod said this afternoon.


"I want them to know there has been a 16-month inquiry, the allegations have been dismissed... |s a human being, let's let her get on and do her job."

Macleod, who is Miller's parliamentary private secretary, claimed there was a "hidden agenda" among the press in their pursuit of her expenses relating to the ongoing standoff over implementing a watchdog for the press.

She said the media were behind the intense pressure on Miller to resign because of her role in legalising same-sex marriage as well as her involvement in pursuing press regulation.

The Sun newspaper went furthest today in its pursuit of the culture secretary by erecting a large flag on College Green opposite parliament suggesting that she quit.

But calls for her to resign are being driven in part by dissatisfaction with her among the Tory backbenches.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested in the Commons that the House should recall the standards and privileges committee's report and produce a recommendation "which may be more robust".

There have also been questions raised in parliament about the legitimacy of the standards committee, which was the subject of a 45-minute debate in the Commons chamber this lunchtime.

John Mann, whose urgent question on the issue was accepted by the Speaker, told MPs there was "virtual unanimity out there among the British people about the fact that members of parliament should not sit in judgement on members of parliament".

Former leader of the House Peter Hain warned: "The truth is the public think there is one rule for them and another rule for us. There must be a solution... otherwise, frankly, we are not going to be in a credible position."

Leader of the House Andrew Lansley insisted MPs needed to retain their ability to self-regulate because doing otherwise would expose parliament to intervention by the courts.

A source close to Lansley told Politics.co.uk the government was open to suggestions on changing the standards committee make-up, but pointed out that the post-2010 system now operates independently of MPs.

If the parliamentary standards commissioner was independent and not subject to parliament all her decisions could be judicially reviewed, the source suggested.

Asked whether Miller had offered her resignation to David Cameron in the last week, the prime minister's spokesperson said: "The matter has not arisen."

"The right thing to do was to accept the recommendations of the standards committee in full, to make the payment and to apologise to the House. And that is what has happened," the spokesperson added.

A ComRes poll found 75% of the public think the culture secretary should resign. Over 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for her to quit.

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