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The Miller’s Tale Updated

You may now join me in shedding a crocodile tear for Maria Miller, who has resigned as Culture Secretary after the furore over her inflated claims for parliamentary housing allowances. 

But only a single tear, mind, even if it is only of the amphibian variety.   There is no point in sending for the bucket and towel for someone so consumed by greed and so captivated by self-importance.    

The wretched Miller herself has by now probably shed a few bucket loads of tears – real ones I imagine – if only in the rueful knowledge that she ought to have organized her financial affairs so much better, meaning more cleverly, to avoid detection; either that or the realisation that her political career is now over. 

She will probably lose her constituency seat at the general elections and then, to quote the Two Ronnies, it’s goodnight from her and goodnight from us.

And good riddance from me.

Given the headlines of the past week, not to mention the blows rained down on her from many of her colleagues, an alternative profession may be difficult to find.  I might have suggested she take a job as a tax advisor but if, as she claims, she understood neither the letter nor the spirit of the parliamentary rules on expenses, she could hardly be expected to advise clients on the arcana of the British tax system, especially the infinite complexities of tax avoidance.  If, however, she knew full well what she was doing, as most of us suspect, and then got caught doing it the affair is, equally, hardly an advertisement for advising others.

Might I suggest, then, that she consider becoming an estate agent?  That way, doing very little in the name of avarice would be perfectly legitimate.

If much is rotten in the village of Westminster, as media commentators (quite rightly) keep reminding us, the arrogant and charm-free Miller has presented us with a handy example of what they mean.  We expect the press to uncover a few bad apples, as indeed it has.  But, naively, we still cling to the hope – or at least I do – that any politician attaining the exalted status of a Minister of the Crown, will become not so much a paragon of virtue, or even of competence (least of all sexual continence), but will somehow evince an appropriate sense of statesman-like decorum.  Needless to say, though it bears repeating anyway, such a standard of behaviour excludes chiselling the public exchequer for all it is worth, seeking salvation when caught by attempting to impede an official investigation, and threatening a newspaper reporter who is getting too close to the truth with some kind of retribution related to the Leveson reforms.

Not incidentally – actually very pertinently – it was Miller who would have been responsible for supervising those reforms.  Who can now claim that the Royal Charter is not a license for government interference in a free press?  Not me, for one.            

Each of Miller’s indiscretions individually ought to have carried punitive damages, but the three combined deserved the maximum sentence.  This, belatedly and with palpable reluctance, the Prime Minister has now (allegedly) imposed.  Why several days were wasted wrestling with it only he can say.

All this, I realize, sounds awfully naïve, not to mention preachy.  After all, many a politician in high office over the centuries has been disgraced for one reason or another.  Many, perhaps even most, tried desperately and in full pubic view to wriggle off the hooks on which they had become impaled, sometimes even to the extent of breaking the law. What most also had in common was that the original offence turned out to be far less important than the subsequent denials or attempted cover-ups.  Miller has thereby maintained a sordid tradition, ending up the same way most of her predecessors did, in public humiliation, inevitably followed by dismissal or resignation. 

Miller was a minor figure in this government.  Her disgrace would scarcely merit even a footnote in history – except that minor political scandals have a habit of resembling the effect of a stone thrown into a still pond, the ripples radiating outwards and gradually turning into waves.  The Profumo scandal, (the anniversary of which was ‘celebrated’ just a few months ago) was an object lesson in what happens when tranquil political waters are disturbed.

Miller may not have fatally impaired David Cameron’s prospects for forming the next government, but the chances are that she has damaged them severely.  The voting public these days has a particular corner of its collective memory for sleaze. 

Radical reform of the parliamentary rules on expenses is long overdue.  Yes, I know, blah, blah, blah.  While most of us cynically doubt that any such reform will occur, and that it will not necessarily be Cameron’s fault, he will be blamed anyway – perhaps to the extent of following Miller into Gatsby-like obscurity.  

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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