I feel for Maria Miller, I really do. And her family…. she’s not the only one affected by this.  I can’t imagine how she has managed to keep it together this last week since resigning last Tuesday.  If I were her I would indeed feel badly for what I had done but also totally mortified if I had read the press coverage about myself. She paid a high price for her mistakes, not only losing her job but her reputation is in shreds and that is not something that can easily be recovered, if ever.

What I have been churning over is the reaction in the press. So many people have felt free to release a lot of nastiness in her direction.

How can this STILL be an issue?
I think the first thing to say is that I was extremely disappointed that expense mis-claiming at Westminster is still an issue. After the expense scandal blew up five years ago, surely they got it all sorted out? No, it seems they haven’t (and apparently there is more to follow). The opportunities for misunderstanding about what is appropriate to claim apparently continue.

It can’t be that difficult for an MP’s accountant to sit down with a Westminster official or a Rule Book and get clarity on what IS and what ISN’T appropriate for their client to claim?  And why have all these huge mortgage claims anyway? Why not give every MP the same daily ‘living-away from home’ allowance for them to spend in whatever way they chose?  MPs, particularly busy Ministers, need better financial advice than they are getting. The Evening Standard called it a “complicated eco-system”. While we are at it, the whole culture of Westminster needs a major re-think but that’s a MUCH longer conversation.

A Witch Hunt? Bullying from the Press
Reading the headlines and the miles of columns devoted to her, this was a really big issue last week.  From what I have discerned, I think it would have been difficult for her to remain and resigning was the best option. My concern is the level of negativity directed at her from ALL quarters (other than the Prime Minister himself who was resolute in his support). The nature of the press coverage was brutal, nasty and personal.  She was criticised way beyond the expenses … everybody had a go calling her arrogant, a philistine, bad at her job as Culture Secretary and failing in more ways than one.

Ouch! To me it felt like it was open season to criticise and to throw out any insults they felt like, which really is a form of bullying. If I had been a young woman considering a career in politics I think I would have decided against it last week. Maria Miller was hung out to dry by the system and ripped to shreds in the media …..  MPs in her own party actually spoke out against her (that has not happened before as they almost always close ranks), although they were the same MPs as those who voted against the recent Bill she drove through to enable Gay Marriage. Even the party Vice-Chairman felt it fair game to take a swipe and tweet “About Time!” when she did resign. That was totally unnecessary. Prime Minister David Cameron thought so too and promptly sacked him. That added to the drama.

Are we getting upset over the wrong things?
The media went crazy over Maria Miller and her “arrogance” and seemed determined that she should resign. I am sure we could sit down and argue over this for many hours but I do wonder why there is no similar outcry over other issues which for me are way more important. Take the issue of the Government spending over £500 million stockpiling two drugs that have turned out to be no more effective than aspirin. This news made the front page as a sub-story underneath Maria Miller. After the Bird Flu alert the Government bought Tamiflu and Relenza which have subsequently been shown, not to prevent flu, but to reduce its occurrence from 7 days to 6.5 days. Is that all???  I ask you,  £400+ million spent on that … now THAT is criminal.

And yet where is the outcry? We’re too busy fretting over a few thousand that potentially was over-claimed for a Minister’s house. Yes I know it’s not the money it’s the principle … and it comes down to ethics and trusting politicians.  I think we lost trust in politicians long ago but where is the public enquiry and debate about the wasted money spent with the pharmaceutical companies that was for nothing??!   And this is just one story …. what about the £100 million investment by the BBC now lost after the Digital Media Initiative was scrapped. Why aren’t we jumping up and down about that one….?

The Claim or the Apology? What upset people the most?
Not all MPs/Ministers with expenses issues have had to resign and Maria Miller was the first one to be asked to make a formal apology in the Chamber. I wondered in my previous blog if the real issue was the expense problem that got to people OR …..  whether it was the apology which was quoted everywhere as being “graceless” and only 32 seconds.

The Guardian says she “conveyed no contrition”. I watched it again and I don’t agree but yes it was short. It was this criticism which made me think that if the Minister had been a man people might not have been so upset by this brief, concise apology. Professor Shelley Correll from Stanford University speaks of women being held to a higher standard of niceness than men (watch her video interview). Perhaps this was a factor in the reaction. Maybe. Francois Hollande is still President of France after lying and cheating on his partner and she was the one who came away with the bad press. Now that one is a real mystery!