An 'ocean of anger' in Basingstoke


So finally she went and many will feel that Maria Miller brought it upon herself.

Not by overclaiming on expenses back into 2009, plenty of MPs did that. Not by her grudging apology or the more heartfelt approach she finally adopted in her Basingstoke Gazette article.

Maria Miller simply failed to understand how important it is for a politician to read public opinion and adapt to the needs of her party for the greater good.

Principles are very well, but politics is the art of the possible.

conservative campaigning Maria Miller with Phil Heath

Her lawyerly approach of arguing every line, head down, working hard, had served her well in the past but faced with a whirlwind she should have had better advice.

It seems she had few friends to give her that quiet chat, or to rally to her side. A key player in her downfall was a former supporter - Phil Heath. Back in 2003 I interviewed Maria tramping the estates of Basingstoke with Councillor Heath clutching the canvassing clipboard and holding the umbrella over her head.

Wind forwards 10 years, he has fallen out with her big time, and is working for UKIP, stirring up trouble wherever he can.

And the way the local parties reacted shows the gulf between them.

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage made Basingstoke a target for a public meeting - the media received regular phone calls with profiles of their election candidate, stressing his local credentials.

Meanwhile the Basingstoke Labour club was full to bursting for a public meeting where the MPs who made the original complaint was paraded before the press and TV amidst quotable claims of "an ocean of public anger".

Only after six days of pressure did local Conservatives offer support and it was in the form of a statement with hectoring tone issued by email from an unnamed Hampshire area chairman. Press inquiries were dismissed by a matronly gatekeeper.

At Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron tried to take the high moral ground, decrying a Labour circus and bandwagon.

Perhaps he's seen that the public fury is against the whole political class and system not just one party.

It took six days of headlines to bring the resignation of Maria Miller, far short of Alistair Campbell's 10-day rule after which the PM has to act.

David Cameron may yet have done himself some favours by seeming to do the decent thing by a colleague whose real weakness was failing to adapt when circumstances changed.

But the Westminster world as a whole has a long way to go to work out why the public were quite so angry with them.

Peter Henley Article written by Peter Henley Peter Henley Political editor, South of England

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  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I have only had course to contact my MP, Maria Miller, twice in the last ten years for advice - on neither occasion did she even bother to reply. I think she has forgotten why she is there and who pays her salary. She should certainly pay back the £40,000 and pay the tax owed on the sale of her house. Quite why she thinks she is above everyone else and the laws (moral and legal) is beyond me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As a minimum, Maria owes the tax payer quite a lot of cash, let's call it £40K. On top of that, there is no particular reason why she should personally profit from house price rises when the tax payer was paying the mortgage. Never mind just the CGT - let's have all of it. Maria is probably feeling stressed right now. Not about losing the job - the prospect of losing the money. Snout. Trough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    She "over-claimed" on her expenses. She did wrong. If a benefit claimant "over-claimed" he would have his benefit stopped and be up in court. IDS has just brought in a measure that if a benefit claimant is found guilty of "over-claiming" they will have their home seized and sold from under them, and not collect £1.2 million in profit. Basingstoke Tories, do the right thing - Deselect her!



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