UK Politics

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.