From tonight’s Evening Blend – a free round-up and analysis of the day’s political events from the Coffee House team. Subscribe here.
‘I think that we should leave it there,’ said David Cameron when asked by reporters today about Maria Miller. Of course, the press won’t leave it there as many suspect that there is something about this that doesn’t quite meet the ‘smell test’ that a leader of a party in opposition once set out. Why has the Prime Minister been quite so warm and supportive towards a minister who failed to co-operate with the investigation into her expenses? Why was she allowed to make such a recalcitrant apology? Former chair of the Commons committee on standards in public life Sir Alistair Graham has told ITV news that ‘Cabinet ministers have to show strong leadership on ethical issues and she hasn’t shown any.’
The Prime Minister also claimed that independent members of the Commons standards committee rather than MPs had the casting vote over whether to censure Miller. But the Commons rules state that only the MPs on the committee can vote on its findings. Expect this to be picked over in some detail in tomorrow’s papers, who don’t seem to like what they can smell. Craig Oliver’s intervention in the middle of today’s Daily Politics – the spin doctor emailed the show to say ‘Tony is talking rubbish about me, and you can use that’ as former Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher was talking about Oliver’s role in the story – is also likely to feature.
One other question worth mulling is why other MPs and Labour closed ranks over this. It is hard to find anyone other than John Mann and Peter Hain who will make any negative comment publicly. While the press is outraged about the way MPs and Number 10 have handled, MPs are privately outraged that their greatest scab, the expenses scandal, is being picked at once again.
As for Labour, it has only sent out an official response today via Chi Onwurah arguing that that David Cameron’s ‘weakness and double standards on the issue of Maria Miller’s expenses are totally unacceptable and completely out of touch’. Labour is warning that ‘we must have the very highest standards in public office’ and ‘there can be no going back to the bad old days of expenses’. But why did it take 24 hours to come up with that response? It will be interesting to see whether Ed Miliband is drawn into responding. This could be the perfect opportunity for him to use his PMQs line that the PM stands up for the wrong people. But any intervention he makes from now on will be rather late to the party and less effective for it.