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The Miller Scandal

David Cameron needs more women in his cabinet – but not before he gets rid of one.

Maria Miller is this government’s minister of the environment, and Member of Parliament for Basingstoke, Hampshire.  She is a woman of no discernible talent or charm.  She is also, by almost universal consent outside Conservative Party circles, a cheat, a liar and a bully. 

“She has to go,” the people cry.  Mr. Cameron disagrees.  “What on earth is he thinking?” they ask.

Their consternation is understandable.  Ms. Miller, in case you haven’t read the London weekend newspapers, claimed expenses for the mortgage payments on her ‘second’ home in Wimbledon, as she is permitted to under the bizarre rules that parliament has evidently devised to provide its members with a little easy money on the side, her primary residence being a house in her Hampshire constituency. 

An independent panel, having investigated her expense claims, found that she had overstated them to the tune of nearly £50,000.  A committee of her fellow MPs reviewed the finding and reduced it by 90 percent.  “She fiddled the system,” they seemed to be saying, “but we can’t have one of our own hung out to dry for that much money.”

‘That much’ is nothing compared to the profit Miller made on the subsequent sale of the Wimbledon home – something north of one million pounds, it is said.  And to add insult to the injury inflicted on the electorate, it now emerges that she will not be paying capital gains tax on the sale because, hey presto, the Wimbledon house has curiously been redefined – solely for tax purposes, you understand – as her ‘primary’ residence.

The fiddling of parliamentary expenses, some more and some less egregious than Miller’s, has been rumbling along for two years.  Cameron promised action but delivered nothing but words.  Various parliamentary authorities followed suit.  Some of the rules were tightened up, or at least ‘clarified’, but the reforms, if I may use the word for courtesy, amounted to little more than tinkering. 

The coalition partners wonder why rabble-rousers like Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond are proving to be so appealing.   The answer can be expressed in a word: disgust.  The voters want honesty and openness.  They get dissembling and obfuscation.

Miller is a symbol – the latest symbol – of what they believe is wrong in Westminster.

Cameron and his advisors seem to have a death wish.  With a general election looming – not to mention an independence referendum in Scotland – the British economy is booming.  The government ought to be rising fast in the polls, basking in the country’s new-found confidence.  The Conservatives ought to be a shoo-in for an outright majority.

Instead, Cameron’s deputy, Nick Clegg, volunteers to get himself trounced in needless broadcast debates by a man whose party does not have a single seat in the House of Commons (and is therefore untainted by the endless parade of parliamentary scandals) and Cameron, with misplaced gallantry, rushes to the defence of a proven embezzler.

It is all inexplicable, actually downright peculiar.

Come on David, fire Miller now, appoint a woman in her place, and put some honest and effective people to work on reforming the system.  If you do not, then the prospect is ripe for another hung parliament, or perhaps worse, a Miliband government, not to mention an independent Scotland.  Oh, and after that a vote to take Britain out of Europe.

This country is losing its way and its bottle.  Common sense – once that most British of virtues – has fled to brutish beasts.

Cameron must get his act together, and right quick, or disaster beckons, for him and for the rest of us.

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