How do you solve a problem like Maria?

5 Apr 2014 at 12:09

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Actually with great ease. She will just sink without trace in the reshuffle, stand down at the election, go and do something worthy and pray for a seat in the Lords which she won’t get.

I know I should be, but I’m really not terribly interested in whatever naughties she was up to with her expenses. What is so shocking, like Watergate, was the sheer brutality and amorality of the cover up. For any politician let alone a minister to threaten a newspaper is profoundly unwise. For a cabinet minister with responsibility for negotiating with a very hostile press over Leveson it is an act of insanity. And to threaten, admittedly via an aide, a reporter, praying in aid the L word is political suicide. As the aide has not been found hanging by a lamp post we can safely assume that she was acting under orders. And I haven’t even mentioned the unpleasant bully girl tactics against a committee of the House, of which the apology delivered from the back benches, where she will shortly be returning, was as insulting as it was brief.

I suspect that Number 10 will be irritated on four counts. Miller has effectively destroyed any deal on Leveson putting her successor in an uncomfortable, if not impossible position. Secondly, this may make a Prime Ministerial U turn inevitable or more likely some very long grass option. This of course plays into the hands of Miliband who will milk it for all its worth and accuse Cameron of being weak at a time when his party are in the middle of a very bloody civil war.

This is the time when all Tory heavy artillery should be bombarding labour, it’s hopeless leader and it’s positively dangerous views on the economy. And that was the point of Cameron’s speech today. But the Miller fiasco has watered the effect down. She has now become the story, which spells death.

I have played her apology back a few times and it is fascinating. Not for her words but from the reaction of colleagues. A cheer? A hear, hear? A squeeze on the shoulder? A pat on the back? Nothing.

And don’t be fooled that having the Chief Whip and the splendid Jeremy Hunt sitting next to her was a show of support. Just look at the body language. It was a scaffold party.

The trouble is will it hasten the reshuffle? No party manager wants this story to run on for too much longer. And more will emerge tomorrow in the Sundays. There is no point in delaying it. And it will seem less panicky than a Miller execution.
But Leveson has to be sorted sooner rather than later. What are the options? Well, Miller could stay on, but that is not really an option at any level of sanity. So who would be her replacement? It has to be a safe pair of hands, trusted by the press and totally supported by Number 10. The under promoted Michael Fallon could be the answer or there could be a radical solution. Lord Black. Now before all of you think that I have finally flipped just ponder for a moment. Guy Black is a well respected former chief executive of the PCC. He plays with a straight bat. He was Cameron’s former boss and is a trusty. He is in charge of corporate affairs for the Telegraph group. Don’t forget they were in the lead on this story. Of course there will be accusations that the government is playing into the hands of the press. But a deal has got to be done. The public demand it. And if anyone can do it is Guy. Whether he wants to is another matter.
And a really big thank you to all those who attended my book launch. I was dreading it but in the end loved every moment because of the real warmth from so many old friends. The PUNCH team were on delightfully mad form. Russell Grant was at his twinkling best. The man has lost eleven stone. Edwina Currie looked as if she had stepped off the front page of Vogue. Alastair Stewart was his usual good fun. And it was lovely to see Zoe Williams and Sarah Sands. Quentin Letts dropped in after putting the boot in to poor old Cleggy. In fact everyone that makes Fleet Street great was there. Thank you all for the bottom of my heart.

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