Maria Miller’s seven deadly errors: A Cabinet minister’s case study in how to lose your job
Maria Miller's departure from the government was fully avoidable. But for years her scornful attitude has combined with some terrible decision-making to leave her no choice but to resign. Here's a breakdown of her seven biggest mistakes…
Maria Miller's expenses claims were, at the very least, dodgy. She had bought a home in London in the late 1990s where she lived with her children and parents. When she became elected an MP in Basingstoke – just an hour from central London – she began renting a home in her constituency. This was subsequently declared to be her main home, allowing her to claim the London property as her second home for which she began claiming expenses. On the balance of probabilities, the commissioner found, the designation of Miller's home was wrong. MPs decided not to agree with that judgement.
Playing the Leveson card (part one)
When the story originally emerged, Miller's special adviser threatened the Telegraph newspaper by linking the issue to the ongoing press regulation debate. "Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment," a journalist was told. "So I am just going to flag up that connection for you to think about." Making the connection created a dangerous new context for the story – it became a totemic part of the struggle between the government and the media. Miller was effectively tying her career to a much bigger war.
— Sun Politics (@Sun_Politics) April 8, 2014
Turning foot-dragging into an art form
At least part of the reason the commissioner's inquiry into Miller's expenses took so long was the legalistic way in which she engaged with the probe. Reading the correspondence reveals just how obstructive Miller was. "I am not sure I am able to assist you further," she replied to one request for information. "The matter was over six years ago and I am reluctant to speculate without attempting to locate any documents on the subject if I still have any." Her foot-dragging partly explained why the commissioner wasn't able to make stronger findings against her.
Six days ago Miller stood up in the Commons from the backbenches to make what is now viewed as the ultimate non-apology. Her tone was grumpy. Her message was apologetic – she was definitely saying sorry – but this was not the sort of repentance which anyone present recognised. Instead of drawing a line under the episode, her incredibly brief apology became a major reason for her eventual departure. This was 31 seconds of contempt for parliament – and MPs reacted accordingly.
Gambling with the PM's reputation
It must have been so easy, as the pressure slowly mounted over the last week, for Miller to lap up David Cameron's willing defence. But Miller, by relying on the prime minister's support ahead of her eventual exit, was compromising her party leader. As she became more isolated, among Tory backbenchers and the general public, the damage done to the prime minister increased proportionately. Miller's resignation leaves Cameron looking weak. Michael Gove's defence of his leader on the grounds that he possesses "basic human decency" shows just how desperate the Tory high command's position now is.
Playing the Leveson card (part two)
Yesterday Miller's parliamentary bag-carrier Mary Macleod deployed one final desperate card: the claim that Miller was guilty of a "media witch-hunt" because of "Leveson and equal marriage". This was an extraordinary development – the kind of bleak logic which made the cardinal error of not addressing the fundamental issue at stake. There is nothing worse, when you're in trouble, than doing anything other than defending on the issue in hand. The complete ineffectiveness of the gambit meant it only served to hasten her downfall.
Not admitting remorse
In the resignation letters distributed this morning Miller has attempted to retain some dignity by resigning on the tried and tested 'distraction' formula. What's missing from her letter is, again, any sense that she's done anything to bring this on herself. By failing to do so she only damages the prime minister still further. Miller has made mistakes at every step of the way. She has turned what should have been a minor matter into a huge political scandal which has ended her time in government. It's a catalogue of errors – and has ultimately damaged Cameron's career as well as ruined her own.