Maria Miller resigns – but is that all that needs to happen?

Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and SportThe writing was on the wall for Maria Miller in the 33rd second after she began her grudging apology last Thursday. Even if she had shown the required amount of contrition, the very fact that a system which allowed a committee of MPs to water down the Standards Commissioner’s judgement looks, even if it isn’t, motivated by self interest, by the privileged protecting their own.

At no point did she, or David Cameron, show any signs of “getting it”, of showing any understanding why the original issue was a serious matter.

By allowing it to become a battle between the Conservative leadership and the Tory right, one in which the latter has triumphed, Cameron has weakened his own position.

It’s been Miller’s own hubris rather than same sex marriage or Leveson, which has brought her down. She was not helped by a system which continues to allow MPs to sit in judgment on expenses matters.

There must be a robust right of appeal from a Standards Commissioner’s report. That is an essential part of natural justice. Might it be too radical to suggest that a randomly selected jury made up of members of the public deal with that? If it’s good enough for criminal proceedings, when people’s liberty is at stake, why not use it in this setting?

The Liberal Democrats within the government appear to have been pretty tight during this whole thing. All the briefing in the press has come from the Tories. Each party within the Coalition looks after its own personnel matters. While that’s a necessary  (who would want the Tories having a say in who our ministers are?) feature of a coalition government, it made us look as if we had nothing to say on this. Now that Miller has gone, our lot really should be looking at changes to the system that make sense to the public. There’s an escalator in Portcullis House, where many MPs’ offices are based, that takes you down into the Palace of Westminster. I call it the Time Machine, because it really feels like you are going back 3 centuries. You feel very far removed from the world outside in those jaw dropping historical surroundings. I’m only an occasional visitor. What must it be like when you actually spend most of your time in there?  It’s essential to end any practice that looks like the privileged closing ranks to protect each other.

What annoys me most about this whole saga, though, is that it has reinforced this myth that MPs avaricious, greedy, money-grabbing passengers on a gravy train. In fact,most of them, from all parties, are decent people who work incredibly hard for their constituents. Working weeks often start well before dawn on a Monday morning  and, if they end at all, it’s after a day of constituency engagements on a Saturday. It is, yes, a privilege to be able to serve the public in that way, but let’s recognise the reality of the hard work and effort that is required to do the job properly.

Update: You may also want to read Stephen Tall’s take on this. He argues that the press have ignored the facts as they pursued Maria Miller and he’s not raising a pitchfork in celebration at her resignation.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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21 Comments

  • The PM was not terribly good at explaining why he thought she was ‘found innocent of the main charge against her’. I understand the Standards Ctte report explains this, but haven’t had time to read it. Can anyone explain, or point me to some where that does? I’m no fan of the PM, but I’m genuinely perplexed he got this SO wrong. ..

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Apr '14 - 10:02am


    What annoys me most about this whole saga, though, is that it has reinforced this myth that MPs avaricious, greedy, money-grabbing passengers on a gravy train.

    Indeed. Real corruption in politics is when politicians use their position to make business deals which bring them millions. If the worst charge that can be brought against ours is that a few of them made dubious expenses claims over second housing, then they’re actually pretty clean.

    If you put all the dubious expense claims of all the MPs together, how many City executives and top finance workers’ bonuses would it pay? To me, the hugely greater amounts of money they claim for work which is fairly routine is much more of a scandal. The “politicians are all bad money-grabbing people” line is used to argue the case that we should move control of things to private business – where the people running it claim hugely more in pay and expenses than our politicians do.

  • Charles Rothwell 9th Apr '14 - 10:26am

    Very good overall comments. The main things I get from this are: (1) this is undoubtedly another very large nail in Cameron’s coffin as Tory Leader and fully the supports the view of him being totally ‘out of touch’ and locked into the mentality of a small clique within the Conservative Party who will only shift from his views (e.g. re dropping Miller or promising a referendum about the EU) when absolutely and totally forced to do so; (2) as Caron says, there is a real opportunity for the Party to come out quickly and clearly for completely abolishing MPs’ having any say in such matters at all and IPSA’s verdicts being allowed to stand and be enforced in their entirety and (3) that the real underlying issue is that top salaries in London (plus the amount of funds sloshing around from elsewhere in the world due the ridiculously lax ‘regulations’ on importing funds) means that MPs’ salaries are just a joke in comparison (although trying to get them to a “sensible” level (£100K/on a par with that for a headteacher of a reasonably sized state secondary school?) would be an “interesting” project, not least in the ligfht of the past few days!

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 10:53am

    I suspect we are in a situation here a bit like Lords Reform, where the consensus in parliament is many miles behind the consensus in the coutnry.

    The analogy I would make is:
    – national opinion: at least 2/3 of the HoL should be elected, if not all.
    – Westminster opinion: maybe we will at some point allow some of the Lords to be elected, maybe a fifth.

    On the Maria Miller case:
    – national opinion: why is someone who represents Basingstoke claiming for a second home in London? Why can she not commute lto London like the vast majority of the consistuents?
    – Westminster opinion: she should resign as a matter of personal honour for over-claiming, but it is not wrong for someone who represents the South of England to live in Lonndon for business purposes.

    On the more narrow issues, I don’t have a problem with Maria Miller continuing as an MP and as to her being a minister, I feel the situation is largely similar to that of David Laws; she may indeed return to government in future, but maybe she would have been able to return more gracefully if she had reacted more gracefully in the first instance, as he did.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 11:00am

    @ Charles Rothwell:
    I suspect some may claim that I am about to play the politics of envy here, but when people say that £60 to 100k for an MP is a ‘reasonable salary’ something jars for me; I think the problem is that in the mouths of some people what we hear is GPs / managers / lawyers saying that ‘people like us’ should expect a salary like that in a way that implies that the MP role naturally therefore belongs to ‘people like us’ (notably I heard this once from Sarah Wollaston, the Devon maverick Tory MP who otherwise is a strong advicate of reform in some respects).

    Some of the language around this issue seems to me to speak of the assumption that lower wages are for lower class people who do not deserve to be in parliament. As somone on less than £25K a year before tax, I occasionally come close to finding this offensive.

  • Charles Rothwell 9th Apr '14 - 11:35am

    Sorry, Matt. Certainly no intention to ‘offend’ on my part at all (and, to be honest, I really have no idea how people (especially if they do own their own home (or live with parents, relatives etc)) can exist in London on anything much below £30K these days. MPs’ salaries have always been a ‘hot potato’ going back to the days of the Chartists) and when Lloyd George introduced in 1911, it was set at £400 p.a. (about £30K in today’s money), i.e. it was deliberately intended to reflect “average wages”. The problem was that, over the decades, a fair number of MPs (some not too far baxck in time!) began abusing their status/potential influence/contacts etc and began ‘raking it in’ and seeing being elected as a meal ticket rather than form of public service.* In 1964, the Lawrence Inquiry therefore recommended that an MP’s salary should be at that of “a senior professional level” and I would certainly see that as being (at least) £100K in terms of present-day London. (*As regards emphasising the ‘public service’ element, I agree with you that any MP living within reasonable commuting distance of central London should be encouraged to do that, while, for those for whom this is not reasonable (30+ minutes actual commuting time (given late-night sittings etc)), the Swedish model of an ‘MPs’ hostel’/week-day accommodation would have much to commend it (and County Hall – a gentle stroll over Westminster Bridge – would have been ideal (after conversion) rather than having a Japanese-owned aquarium (!) etc inside it!)

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Apr '14 - 11:38am

    Matt, I think the difference between Miller and Laws is that David was gone within 24 hours and he took his ultimate 7 day suspension from the Commons with much more grace and humility. Miller’s interview shows even now she doesn’t really get it. Maybe she will at some point.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 11:53am

    @ Charles, I feel I have to apoligse to you as I didn’t wish to imply any personal umbrage towards you – I don’t think you were offensive in the point you made, but I am trying to say that I am concerned that the argument you make is capable in the hands of other people of being used to create and protect a Victorian-style leadership class that has a right to a certain lifestyle, to a certain salary, and is associated with living in the capital city, which exists primarily to be a base for ‘leaders’ and ‘future leaders’.

    @Caron, I think I was trying (badly) to make the point you just made; that the situation (and Maria miller’s subsequent career) _could_ have been analogous to that of David Laws _if_ she had reacted gracefully.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 12:34pm

    I would go further, Helen – I don’t think the political class is out of touch, I think what is being created is the social/structural potential for an elite class that fundamentally will not need to be in touch (in the sense of being in day to day contact with) with the people they claim to represent/manage/lead/advise, as there will be no alternative group of people able or allowed to take these roles. I’m not saying I personally want to be an MP (I don’t), but I’m not sure how somone of my current estate in life now becomes an MP apart from a) by freak accident or b) years of accumulated personal sacrifice and gradual breaking down / rejection of of class or regional allegiances and lifestyles that would be barriers to their moving freely in this new social grouping that appears ot be being created.

    I find it interesting that Maria Miller’s letter makes reference to her having working class roots in South Wales, presumably in an attempt to deflect just this sort of criticism, but I rather feel it proves my point. That was where she came from . It’s not where she’s at.

  • Around 90% of MPs do not represent a London constituency so there is no reason their salary should be increased to take into account they turn up there mid-week, especially when their housing expenses for visiting London are covered by expenses. It is nonsensical to suggest they should be paid a ‘London’ salary for visiting London free of charge.

    Their salary, before expenses and their generous pensions, is greater than more than 95% of the population and way above the average for jobs requiring similar levels of experience, qualifications and dedication.

    Why compare their salaries to random outliers such as a handful of bankers? Why not pay them all the same as Wayne Rooney? – surely they’re better than him? No. Their salaries need to compared to average earnings and the qualifications and commitment required for the job and on those metrics they are overpaid already.

    As for complaining about them working hard – I find it quite insulting to the many millions who work similar hours and get paid a small fraction of what an MP receives.

    Defending this nonsense plays in to the hands of UKIP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Apr '14 - 2:20pm

    Steve

    Their salary, before expenses and their generous pensions, is greater than more than 95% of the population and way above the average for jobs requiring similar levels of experience, qualifications and dedication

    I certainly wouldn’t want to give up my job, with its salary in the £40s k, for a salary of £60k in a job which is not permanent and requires huge amount of work outside normal hours. I mean this seriously – I was once in the position where I could have made a serious attempt at being an MP, but the salary, danger of losing my current job and not being able to return if I became and MP and then lost my seat, and workload were all factors that meant I didn’t consider going further.

    If I were a very wealthy man with a private income, I wouldn’t be bothered by the worries mentioned above. So your line, Steve, is in effect restricting being an MP to either those on average or low pay or the very wealthy.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 2:52pm

    Of course, in a world with regional parliaments, the opportunities to exercise power and pursue political change would (OK, could) be dispersed to the regions and the pressures on London as a national centre and HQ for a governing class would (could) be lessened so that more opportunities would (could) open up for people from a greater diversity of backgrounds and abitions without their economic choices and temptations being as great or as stark…

  • Charles Rothwell 9th Apr '14 - 4:02pm

    I think your final comment is spot on, Matt. If we’d much more devolved government within ENGLAND, this would help to counter-balance the ludicrously disproportionate role which London is now assuming in every aspect of life in the UK. We live in Yorkshire and enjoy visiting London, but we do this increasingly in the same way as we would go to Bruges or Amsterdam, i.e. as visiting somewhere interesting with first-class theatres, restaurants, museums, galleries etc etc but having increasingly little to do with us as citizens of England. I must admit that the idea in Ewan Davies’ recent BBC programme (“Mind the gap”) of trying to balance the sheer economic clout of London by promoting some kind of ‘super-city’ with Liverpool/Manchester/Leeds does have some merit (and would, of course, need corresponding devolution of powers of all kinds); all sound Liberal policies (going back to Gladstone!) (Watching Milliband (an arch-apostle of the centralising control-freak New Labour tendency pre-2010) trying to scramble on board this approach yesterday was embarrassing in the extreme, I felt!)

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '14 - 4:08pm

    First of all I won’t big stones at any MP who has broken a few rules. In one of my previous jobs I worked extremely hard and broke the rules several times in order to pay the bills. I ended up effectively “resigning”, but it wasn’t because I got caught, the guilt just consumed me and I couldn’t do it any longer.

    So I know how decent human beings can break rules.

    That said, I am disappointed with the reaction of politicians and activists towards this. It seemed like they were just protecting themselves, rather than eventually doing the principled thing. The worst aspect of the lot for me, is how often MPs throw stones at other people, and then they act like this and try to brush an expenses scandal under the carpet.

  • A couple of people have suggested that Cameron has been diminished by this. This would seem to be born out by the consequential ” promotions” of ministers to fill the gap.
    Read this (from The Independent) and consider the attitudes of the new Minister for Women, Nicky Morgan —

    “……,,,,Also moving jobs today is Nicky Morgan, who takes up Mr Javid’s former role as number three at the Treasury and will also take on Ms Miller’s office as Minister for Women.
    Ms Morgan, MP for Loughborough, was among those who voted against gay marriage in 2013, telling The Leicester Mercury: “Marriage, to me, is between a man and a woman.”
    Parliament eventually legalised same-sex unions, with the first ceremonies taking place last month.
    And in 2011, Ms Morgan backed anti-abortion campaigner Nadine Dorries’ amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, to require independent advice be made available to women requesting an abortion.”

  • What this story underlines is just what a poor deal the electorate get, especially in safe seats. Miller’s constituency is a commutable distance from London. To what extend do MPs represent their constituents when some of them spend little time in their constituencies? The expenses system reinforces this. Parliament has so many breaks to allow MPs to be in their constituencies and yet many stay in London and milk 2nd and 3rd jobs while we pay them to represent us. Worst of all, Miller can probably still do this for another 20 years. Many MPs are virtually impossible to dislodge. At the same time MPs like Gordon Brown can avoid the chamber and still get paid. So cynical are these MPs that we should possibly consider tagging them and only paying them when they are actually where they are supposed to be.

  • peter tyzack 10th Apr '14 - 9:30am

    a proper ‘job description’ and ‘terms and conditions of service’ would go a long way to resolving things for MPs and for the people they are supposed to serve. Given that being a councillor can be almost a full-time job, there is no way that any MP could be doing any 2nd job, and where they do get involved in writing for a paper or doing an excellent TV programme(Rory Stewart) then the fees earned should belong to the exchequer or be paid to a charity.
    Their salary and expenses should be set to directly relate to a specific job/ Hay pay scales/teachers pay scale or something of the sort, (ditto for councillors), and then the whole question would be out of their hands.

  • On the issue of Maria Milker needing a second home when her constituency is only a 40 minute train journey away, it has been suggested that it is not reasonable to expect her to commute given the long hours and late night sittings. But see, the cleaners who clean her offices have to commute at 3am/4am/5am to get to the House of Commons and clean her workplace for a minuscule salary. Working people from all walks if life have to commute at all times of the day and night without being given a second house.

    And isn’t it about time the working hours were revised to prevent late night sittings?

  • What is frustrating with politicians is most don’t seem to see any wrong, only the damage to the party…

    Would someone kindly explain the difference between someone claiming benefits wrongly, and someone claiming expenses wrongly, both taking from the public purse; of course the one claiming benefits wrongly will end up in court then prison, but the other can say sorry and walk away and for the present stay in employment with support from our PM… for about the same amount of £45000

    No offense but this is what is wrong; two types of justice… and politicians just don’t get it.

    Jim

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Apr '14 - 9:21pm

    Jim

    Would someone kindly explain the difference between someone claiming benefits wrongly, and someone claiming expenses wrongly, both taking from the public purse; of course the one claiming benefits wrongly will end up in court then prison, but the other can say sorry and walk away and for the present stay in employment with support from our PM… for about the same amount of £45000

    I can very much see what is wrong with this, but that does not stop me wondering why such a fuss is made about this compared to top bankers and City executive routinely taking ten times and in some cases one hundred times this amount. Now you may say they are not taking public funds, but we all have no choice but to use their services, and whichever bank or company you use, they’re all the same, so we are just as much paying them these amounts. It seems to be to be strange to quibble about the amounts taken by a few hundred people in one executive position in Westminster (and of course most MPs don’t take what this one took), but not to make so much more fuss about thousands of people in other other executive positions in the City of London taken tens of times more, having just as much fiddled the rules they control to justify it. Isn’t that what someone once called straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel?

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