Maria Miller’s PPS Mary Macleod seems to have been trying to emulate what Jeremy Hunt’s former aide Rob Wilson (now PPS to the Chancellor) did for his boss as Culture Secretary in trying to round up support for the minister. The problem is that while Wilson operated below the radar, with his work only surfacing when he got a bit over-enthusiastic and asked them to tweet nice things about Hunt as Health Secretary when his real troubles were long gone, Macleod was rather less subtle and her text messages soliciting support and alleging a witch hunt ended up on Guido’s blog quicker than a 32 second Miller apology.
The really silly element in MacLeod’s message and her subsequent media appearances is that she is accusing the media of a ‘witch hunt’ over ‘Levesen’. Of course the government’s system of press regulation is not popular with the newspapers. But it was Miller’s adviser Jo Hindley who decided to ‘flag up’ what she saw as a connection between a valid investigation into Miller’s expenses and the talks she was holding with editors about Leveson.
Miller herself has penned a column for her local paper in which she tells her constituents that ‘I have let you down’, which would sound a bit more sincere if she had given the impression in the Commons that she thought this too. She also manages to avoid saying that she’s sorry – only that ‘I have unreservedly apologised’ and ‘I have already apologised and repaid an over-claim’. It’s not a bad idea to write something in your local paper for your constituents to read. The problem is that constituencies other than Basingstoke are being affected by this row, according to the MPs raising the problem.
Miller writes that she hopes that ‘over time the focus will once again be on Basingstoke’. But Macleod’s intervention (which her spinner doesn’t seem that keen on) and Miller’s apology (which takes 56 seconds to read aloud) will mean that the focus will remain on the minister for another day. The pair have flagged up a row that could have flagged. And tomorrow we have the last PMQs of term.