Maria Miller quits: Cameron defends 'honest' Parliament

David Cameron says the anger over expenses was "very raw and needs to be acted on"

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David Cameron has defended the reputation of Parliament after Maria Miller's resignation, saying it is full of "good and honest" MPs.

The prime minister said expenses rules had been improved since 2010, although more could be done to put Parliament's integrity "beyond doubt".

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said the PM did not "get" public anger over the former culture secretary's conduct.

He accused Mr Cameron of being "an apologist for unacceptable behaviour".

Mrs Miller quit the government after a week of negative headlines about her expenses claims between 2005 and 2009, her lack of co-operation with an independent inquiry and her brief apology to Parliament last week.

She has been replaced as culture secretary by financial secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid, reducing the number of women in the cabinet from four to three.

In other developments:

  • Mrs Miller is donating the £17,000 pay-off she is entitled to on leaving the cabinet to charity
  • In a mini-reshuffle, Treasury minister Nicky Morgan has been promoted and also made minister for women
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage called for residents of Basingstoke to hold a "recall" vote on Mrs Miller's future as their MP
  • Tory MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that he had been sacked as Conservative Party vice-chairman for his comments about Mrs Miller and his opposition to the HS2 rail link
'Step forward'

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said it had been right for him to stand by Mrs Miller, as she had been cleared of the main charge against her and had apologised for her behaviour to MPs.

View from Basingstoke

The large North Hampshire town of Basingstoke is famed for its many roundabouts among other things and, despite being a Conservative stronghold, for most constituents Maria Miller's resignation from cabinet is the right outcome, even if it materialised in a roundabout way.

A common theme that came back time and time again, is that the claiming of these expenses was wrong and she should have resigned earlier, or indeed been sacked.

This constituency of just over 75,000 people is not used to being in the glare of national media and the "drama" is perceived to be unwelcome attention.

Historically, Basingstoke has been a Conservative safe seat.

Having served as their MP for nine years, people on the High Street were quick to point out the good work Miller had done locally, serving with commitment and enthusiasm.

The acid test of this opinion will be revealed at the ballot box come the next election.

To get rid of someone "at the first sign of trouble" would have been a sign of weakness, not leadership, he insisted.

"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," he told MPs.

But the prime minister acknowledged the row showed public feeling about MPs' expenses was still "raw" and "needed to be acted on".

All complaints about current expenses claims were now dealt with by an independent body, he said, while "legacy" cases, which related to claims made before 2010 - such as Mrs Miller's - were ruled on by a committee of MPs which had non-MP "lay members" on it, he argued.

He said he was willing to meet other party leaders and the Commons authorities to discuss further steps.

"We should do everything we can to show this is a good and honest Parliament, with good and hard-working people in it. That is the assumption I start (with) and I make no apology for that," he said.

'Bandwagon'

But Mr Miliband said the prime minister had made a "terrible error of judgement" in supporting Mrs Miller and had been the "last person in the country to realise her position was untenable".

Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of a "terrible error of judgment"

"This is about him, the fact he still does not understand what she [Mrs Miller] did wrong.

"This is about the members of this country absolutely appalled about the conduct of his government over the last week. It is about members of the public who cannot understand why he did not act".

The affair had undermined public trust in the government and in politics in general, Mr Miliband added.

Start Quote

This decision is a defeat for a minister who believes she has been found not guilty on the central charge of asking the taxpayer to pay for a home for her elderly parents”

End Quote

He said he would hold talks with the prime minister about reforming the system, but claimed Mr Cameron needed "to learn profound lessons about how he runs his government".

"In opposition, he (David Cameron) was an apostle for better standards but he has spent the last week being an apologist for unacceptable behaviour," he told MPs.

Mr Cameron accused Mr Miliband of "jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town," asking the Labour leader why he had not called for Mrs Miller's resignation when she still had her job.

'Distraction'

Maria Miller: "I wish I could have stayed"

The former culture secretary insisted she took "full responsibility" for her decision to quit amid speculation that she had been forced out by No 10.

Conservative chairman Grant Shapps insisted it had been culture secretary's decision to leave office.

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said he understood "someone senior" had talked to Mrs Miller on Tuesday about the row and its wider ramifications before she informed PM of her decision to quit.

However, he said it may never be known whether she took the decision herself or told to go.

Mrs Miller was cleared of funding a home for her parents at taxpayers' expense following a 16-month inquiry, but was told to repay £5,800 of the expenses she claimed by the Commons Standards Committee.

The independent parliamentary commissioner for standards had previously recommended she repay £45,000, a discrepancy that has led to calls for change to the way investigations are conducted.

Reshuffle

Nigel Farage says David Cameron's support of Mrs Miller shows "how disconnected he is from public opinion"

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC that all expenses investigations should be carried out using Parliament's current rules.

He said: "There is a legitimate issue to ask whether we could accelerate that change for those cases which are still hanging around from the past."

Amid the fallout from Mrs Miller's resignation, Labour claimed that Mr Cameron had put a man in overall charge of women's policy.

Nicky Morgan's new role as minister for women does not come with a seat in cabinet - but she will attend cabinet meetings where necessary.

Downing Street said that she will have a brief to monitor women's issues across government and report directly to David Cameron - rather than Mr Javid.

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Politics Live

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    09:06: 'Down to the broadcasters ' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    It all hinges on what the broadcasters do now. At the moment, they are saying nothing in public. But privately, they seem determined to tough this out.

     
  2.  
    09:05: Labour's Scottish challenge
    Ballot box

    There are other political stories today, even if the debate row is drowning out coverage. Prof John Curtice has been speaking to BBC Scotland about Labour's prospects north of the border at the election. He said there may be tough times ahead for the party after new polling by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft suggested big gains for the SNP at May's election.

     
  3.  
    @xtophercook Chris Cook, Newsnight policy editor

    tweets: I don't get why CCHQ doesn't just say "Last time, we think the debates were a distraction and we would rather run a traditional campaign"

     
  4.  
    09:03: Your say

    Politics Live readers on TV debates

    Mr Cameron, in effect, is the CEO of the United Kingdom. His duty is to abide by what the electorate requests or risk losing power, he has already lost face. He doesn't want to stand in front of his company's employees and explain his failures.

    Chris

    Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be obliged to form a (probably minority) government on 8th May so why is Cameron running scared of a 1 to 1 debate with Miliband?

    ... The public want to see an old fashioned 1 to 1 between the 2 potential Prime Ministers and if it doesn't happen it will be David Cameron's fault.

    Andy Kirkland

    If the conservatives think Ed Miliband is so weak why is David Cameron not willing to go head to head with him?

    Pat Pierce.

    Cameron is always going on about the achievements of this Government, how at all costs the good work being done should continue and not change course, the long term etc. If he speaks so passionately about this and how anything else would be utter chaos and doom, and he wants people to vote Tory, why does he not go all out in TV debate with Miliband and pull opposition apart and vice versa, so the voters get to see a real debate.

    K.Pearce

     
  5.  
    @IsabelHardman Isabel Hardman, assistant editor at The Spectator

    tweets: Tory MPs are in a mutinous mood over defence spending, dismissed as having "no votes". Me in today's Times

     
  6.  
    08:47: 'Thatcher would have debated' BBC News Channel

    Lord Ashdown tells the BBC he can't imagine Margaret Thatcher refusing to take part in debates - he says David Cameron's decision is "unbelievable". The former Lib Dem leader adds that broadcasters should go ahead with their plans and "empty-chair" the prime minister if needs be.

     
  7.  
    08:46: Greens on TV debates
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    The Green Party has just released a statement on the TV debate row: "This swerve by Cameron will further damage trust in our political system. Not only is Cameron's announcement cowardly but it also shows his contempt for the electorate.

    "People want to see a set of debates between all major party leaders, yet the Prime Minister is clearly scared of scrutiny.

    "Natalie is very much looking forward to debating with the other 6 party leaders. David Cameron must not be allowed to scupper these plans."

     
  8.  
    @jimwaterson Jim Waterson, BuzzFeed UK deputy editor

    tweets: Happy to host a seven-way leaders' debate over Twitter group DMs at a time that suits the parties.

     
  9.  
    08:40: What's happened so far?

    It's been a busy morning in Westminster. Here's a quick recap for those of you heading to work or just arriving at the office:

    There's bound to be plenty more to come. We'll bring you all the latest news and analysis. Don't forget to let us know your views; emails is politics@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcpolitics.

     
  10.  
    @kayburley Kay Burley, Sky News presenter

    tweets: So @campbellclaret says he's been prepping @Ed_Miliband for #TVdebates by 'playing David Cameron' Now there's a thought...

     
  11.  
    08:27: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

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  12.  
    08:25: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

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  13.  
    08:24: Harvey Proctor on claims BBC Radio 4 Today

    Former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor is speaking to Today after his house was searched by police. The police have told him they are investigating historical sex abuse allegations going back to 1970s and 1980s, he says. The offences he committed in the past would no longer be offences - they related to the age of consent, he adds. He denies ever attending sex parties of being part of any "rent boy ring" with high profile figures.

     
  14.  
    08:21: Debate fallout BBC Radio 5 live
    Lord Carlile

    Reaction to the debates row is pouring in. This is from Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile:

    "I think we should found our debates on the system we've got, upon a credible approach and treating the public as intelligent people and the Prime Minister I'm afraid is running scared from it because he knows how well Nick Clegg did at the last election so he doesn't want him in the debates."

    On plans for a seven-party debate, he adds: "I most certainly will not be watching a bun fight of that kind because I think it will be extremely uninformative. I think the public should be treated with respect in this controversy and the public expect that this will be resolved on the basis of the election system we have, like it or not."

     
  15.  
    08:19: Lord Ashdown on debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    The biggest losers from this are the British people, says Lord Ashdown. He accuses the prime minister of "cowardice" and suggests the debates could become a right for the British people.

     
  16.  
    08:16: Lord Ashdown on debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    Lord Ashdown asks "why on earth" should David Cameron be allowed to "veto" debates? He says the Lib Dems will take part in whatever debates take place. He says Nick Clegg will be happy to debate Ed Miliband on the government's record if Mr Cameron won't.

     
  17.  
    08:15: Lord Ashdown on debates BBC Radio 4 Today
    Lord Ashdown

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  18.  
    @georgegalloway George Galloway, MP

    tweets: How pathetic must a PM be that he is "frit" to debate with Ed Miliband....?

     
  19.  
    Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Ed Miliband met BBC boss Tony Hall last night to urge broadcasters to stand firm over #tvdebates

     
  20.  
    @tnewtondunn Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun political editor

    tweets: "Cameron accused of running scared on TV debates..." is the headline on BBC bulletins, who stand to lose out considerably by No10's offer.

     
  21.  
    08:07: Devolution for Cornwall
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  22.  
    07:58: 'Rule out SNP pact'
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  24.  
    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

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  25.  
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  26.  
    07:32: Your say

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    Rather than what broadcasters or what political parties want regarding debates, what about what the electorate wants?

    The debates at the last election and the Scottish referendum debates were widely watched and helped reconnect the public with the political process. They took leaders out of their ivory towers and made them more accountable to the people they are supposed to lead.

    Cameron refusing to take part in debates shows his contempt for this process and a fear of public scrutiny. I really think the Tories have made a major error of judgement here, the electorate will not be gentle.

    Ged Roddam

    The prime minister has stated he only wants one debate. It is not the broadcasters who should pressurise otherwise. They need to respect his position on this, as do the other parties who are name calling.

    Broadcasters would not be pressurising the CEO of a large company on how to run their business...

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    Do you agree? Email is politics@bbc.co.uk with your views.

     
  27.  
    @rosschawkins Ross Hawkins, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Lib Dem view on debates is they'll do them even if not happy about format. Will broadcasters - as they've suggested - go ahead without PM?

     
  28.  
    @PickardJE Jim Pickard, Financial Times

    tweets: Alastair Campbell is outraged by Cameron wriggling from TV debates. Reminded he blocked Blair from doing so in 1997 he tells #today: "True."

     
  29.  
    07:22: One man debate? BBC Radio 4 Today

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  30.  
    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

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  31.  
    07:15: Campbell on TV debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, says David Cameron's decision to only take part in one TV debate is "democratically wrong and morally cowardly". He says Mr Cameron should be honest about why he doesn't want to take part - "he just doesn't want to do them", Mr Campbell says.

     
  32.  
    07:11: One-on-one debate? Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Is it possible for a "one-on-one" debate to go ahead with just one person? Labour thinks so, our political correspondent reports. The party will insist the plan is credible and could lead to Ed Miliband taking part in a debate with a presenter.

    "If that were to happen, David Cameron would be pursued by a man in a chicken costume throughout the campaign, I'm certain of that", our correspondent adds.

     
  33.  
    07:06: Telegraph on debates The Daily Telegraph

    The Telegraph has penned an editorial which says the televised discussions are good for democracy. The paper argues the debates would "inject some much-needed spontaneity and excitement into the stage-managed, safety-first election campaigning". The piece says broadcasters now need to work together to make sure "some sort of debate" does take place.

     
  34.  
    Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Labour say Ed Miliband will still take part in Ch4//Sky head to head debate without the PM

     
  35.  
    @NickyMorgan01 Nicky Morgan, minister for women

    tweets: Looking forward to today's #CWIB2015. Bringing together ambitious business women for masterclasses and mentoring. #womensday

     
  36.  
    06:55: 'Move Parliament to Manchester' The Guardian

    Earlier this week, we reported Commons Speaker John Bercow saying the Houses of Parliament may have to be "abandoned" within 20 years without extensive repair work. There have been a number of suggestions on possible alternatives. Today, Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian that Parliament should be moved to Manchester, arguing it would be good for democracy.

     
  37.  
    06:51: Broadcasters 'pressing ahead' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    "Talking to some of those involved last night, my impression at the moment, is the broadcasters are intent on toughing this one out... They do not think that one 90-minute debate involving eight parties in the next fortnight or so is acceptable. They do not think it is acceptable one party should have the power to veto what goes ahead. As things stand they are intent on pressing ahead with the debates as currently scheduled."

     
  38.  
    06:42: Cameron's debate plans Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Our correspondent has been analysing last night's big debate news.

    The effect is to swing a huge wrecking ball in the direction of the broadcasters' plans for these TV debates, he says. It may demolish all hopes for a debate to be held, or may leave one "paltry" 90-minute debate later this month.

    The clear view of Downing Street is that this is the fault of broadcasters, who they accuse of coming forward with proposals without consultation, to a timetable that was never going to be acceptable, and of failing to get the parties to get together for meaningful negotiations, our correspondent says.

     
  39.  
    06:39: TV debate reaction
    HuffPo

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  40.  
    06:30: Scotland Ashcroft poll

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  41.  
    06:25: The papers
    Daily Telegraph front page - 05/03/15

    Downing Street's announcement that the prime minister will only take part in one TV debate ahead of the election features in several papers, with The Daily Telegraph describing it as an "ultimatum" to broadcasters. The BBC's Alex Kleiderman has the full round-up of the nationals here.

     
  42.  
    06:20: Child benefit changes? BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30

    The BBC has learned the Conservatives are considering limiting child benefit to three children. As Newsnight reported last night, the Treasury has "softened" to the idea, which could save an estimated £300m a year.

     
  43.  
    06:15: Debate bombshell
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    In case you missed it, there was a significant development last night on the TV leaders debates, after Downing Street wrote to broadcasters to make a "final offer" of only one debate with seven, possibly eight, leaders. Other parties criticised the PM, accusing him of "acting like a chicken" and the broadcasters have said they will respond to the proposal in due course. Expect more reaction on this story this morning.

     
  44.  
    06:10: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to a fresh Thursday's political coverage. Nick Eardley and Matthew Davis will bring you all the action, reaction and analysis in text and you'll be able to watch and listen to all the main BBC political programmes, from Today and Breakfast through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament. Don't forget you can get in touch by emailing politics@bbc.co.uk or via social media @bbcpolitics. Here's how Wednesday unfolded.

     

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