9 Apr 2014

Maria Miller didn’t jump – she was discreetly pushed

The official version of events is that the prime minister was taken by surprise when a call was put through to him as he left the banquet at Windsor Castle in honour of the president of Ireland.

Maria Miller was calling to say she’d decided she was a massive distraction, should go and he then accepted that.

In fact, there was a personal visit to Maria Miller last night in which someone close to the prime minister told her the game was up.

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“The decision was made yesterday evening to get rid of her,” a government source told me.

When Maria Miller was confronted with that thinking, it was “not something she immediately grasped,” I was told. But by the end of the conversation she was in no doubt.

The Conservative leadership had decided that the damage the Maria Miller saga was doing – dominating coverage and obscuring the message on the economy – had gone far enough.

The press showed no sign of letting up and the Maria Miller fightback by supporters was showing signs of misjudgements that had characterised her self-defence from the beginning.

I was told by one government source that Maria Miller’s PPS’s appearance on Sky News and her text message to Tory backbenchers saying the attacks on Maria Miller were a media witch-hunt were “the final straw.”

This “should never have been said,” another government source said. Michael Gove, on Radio 4 said this morning, “I wouldn’t go there.” It was “the final nail in the coffin,” one government source said. “Mary sealed her fate.”

This all came on top of a fairly grim day of backbench critics putting their heads above the parapets and signalling they were fed up with the flak they were getting from constituents over her expenses.

One government source said: “(Maria Miller) had become quite pompous and cut off … she didn’t see people … it was like a wall around her.”

Casting the whole saga as a trial of strength with the newspapers breaks all the unspoken rules of these sorts of tussles. If you spell that out, you put the prime minister at risk of being cast as the loser. That’s exactly what Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of The Sun, said on Sky News this morning. The PM, he said, saw this as a “battle of strength” between himself and the newspapers and it is clearly a battle “he has lost.”

Maria Miller’s resignation letter says: “It has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this government is doing to turn our country around.”

It doesn’t say how that became clear. It was made clear and the dark arts of Westminster, back-channels, deniability and careful wording have been used to protect her but more importantly protect the prime minister from the charge that he took up a fight – against the newspapers and many in his own party – and lost it.

The new Culture Secretary is Sajid Javid, one of the high-fliers long seen as knocking at the Cabinet door. He’s such a rising star that he was one of the guests at the fateful Rupert Murdoch dinner before Christmas.

Nicky Morgan, his replacement at the Treasury, will attend Cabinet to mark her responsibilities as Minister for Women.

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