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Following on-going rows concerning her parliamentary expenses, it came as little surprise that culture secretary Maria Miller resigned from her post on the morning of Wednesday, April 9. Much to the disappointment of prime minister David Cameron, Miller’s announcement was greeted with a collective reception of served justice.
So what then, is the exact issue regarding the former culture secretary’s departing from parliament? Following a report laid out by Kathryn Hudson, it was concluded that Miller had over-claimed £45,000 for expenses towards mortgage interest payments and council tax on the family home in London. Due to parliamentary rules, the commissioner is only able to make a recommendation regarding how much the MP in question is due to repay. The ultimate say is left to a committee of fellow MPs and lay members, who in this instance, dictated that Miller only needed to pay back £5,800 to cover over-claiming of mortgage expenses.
The discrepancy arose surrounding the difference between the size of Mrs Miller’s mortgage, initially £525,000 upon entering the Commons in 2005, and the £237,500 purchase price of the five-bedroom property. The debacle, therefore, creating serious undercurrents within the Conservative party, left many Tory ministers applying pressure to the prime minister to remove what they perceived to be a “toxic” issue.
As Cameron stood before a gathered commons to publicly express his disappointment surrounding the day’s events, he told MPs: “I hope the one lesson that won’t be learnt is that the right thing to do as soon as someone has to answer allegations is to instantly remove them rather than give them a chance to clear their name and get on with job.” It all begs the question: do the powers that be within the Conservative party have a realistic grip on the issue at present?
It is hard to find argument against the very “stereotypical Tory” attitude that this issue readily paints. A parliamentary committee adjourned that her total repayments would stand only around the meagre £6,000 mark despite the fact that Miller made essentially one million pounds in profit after selling the taxpayer-funded property. The common cynic would state that this exemplifies everything that is wrong with the Conservative party. A cabinet of over-privileged, privately educated, pompous souls, dealing primarily in self-interest with little grasp upon the everyday plights and issues of the people of Britain.
Cameron’s almost unassailable and undeterred defence of Miller, however, could on the one hand be interpreted as strict allegiance to one’s fellow cabinet member, yet just as patently viewed as the prime minister’s nonchalant miscomprehension of a monetary matter, one of which many of the general public deem as hugely significant.
Prior to her formal resignation, Miller’s 32-second apology in front of fellow MPs was widely criticised by many national newspapers, the general consensus being that it did not reflect the critical tone of the commissioner’s report and that, ultimately, she had been let off lightly compared to other MPs – who had had to repay much larger sums in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal.
The fact that Miller stated that she ‘’fully accepted’’ the committee’s recommendations and Cameron’s subsequent support of this cannot help but denote a feeling of an issue greatly lost in social translation. It appeared as though the prime minister was contented enough with Miller’s apologetic stance and willingness to pay the vastly condensed sum, predisposed to continue afresh, almost irrespective of the moral implication surrounding the MP’s actions.
Put simply, the Conservatives have seen a thick fog of distaste fall upon themselves, as a party, throughout this whole saga, due purely to a lack of insincerity and discourteous handling of an issue of which the general public clearly valued on a much greater level of importance. If any silver lining is to be extracted from this whole self-inflicted mess, it is perhaps the gift of time that lies between now and next year’s general election – time with which the Conservatives need to hastily embark upon making necessary amendments in the light of such image-threatening antics.