I had my suspicions when I read the opening of The Times first leader:
A year and a half ago reporters working for another newspaper found themselves speaking to a special adviser working for Maria Miller, who was then (and at the time of writing still is) the Culture Secretary. Their conversation concerned the discovery that what Mrs Miller had described as her second home, for which she had claimed more than £90,000 in allowances, was also the home of her elderly parents.
“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment,” was the response of Jo Hindley, the adviser, “so I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about.” Miss Hindley went on to suggest that the reporters should speak with “people a little higher up your organisation”. Shortly afterwards she herself contacted a senior executive at that newspaper group to complain.
That’s nasty — though the argument in The Times goes on to whinge about press regulation, which is not the relevant point.
Moreover, the Telegraph‘s full reveille is on-line for all to see, from December 2012.
So, as expected, to the real dirt:
David Cameron’s director of communications earlier denied putting pressure on the Daily Telegraph over the expenses story.
The newspaper’s former editor Tony Gallagher used an interview with the Today Progamme to repeat claims that he had received a call from Craig Oliver in 2012, warning that the Culture Secretary was “looking at Leveson”.
In a statement to the BBC, Mr Oliver said: “It is utterly false for Tony Gallagher to suggest he was threatened over Leveson by me in any way. My conversation with him was about the inappropriate door-stepping of an elderly man.”
But Mr Gallagher hit back this afternoon, telling the Daily Politics that Mr Oliver hadn’t addressed “the key issue” of his complaint.
“In rushing out a denial he’s made the story about Craig Oliver, rather than about the far more substantive point which is this all about press freedom and the threats to press freedom,” Mr Gallagher said.
I have to admit I missed the Today programme: blame it on those bottles of Caberet.
A Malcolmian aside
To be honest, I doubt that the crux of the issue is just “press freedom”. The glory of innovations like Twitter and this platform is that, sooner rather than later, the whistle blows, the gun smokes, the gilt comes off the gingerbread. We all could all (and some of us did) remember a story in The Guardian in 2009. The Guardian wrapped it up a bit (doubtless for the lawyers), but the New York Times read the runes, and spelled it out:
The Guardian said confidential files compiled by Britain’s official information commissioner showed that one private investigator tracked down by the police had received a total of 13,343 requests, from 305 reporters, for information that typically required hacking into confidential databases, including tax returns, phone records, social security data, bank statements, records of drivers’ licenses and information on police computers.
Mr. Yates, named in April as the chief of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard, said the practices reported by The Guardian had been subject to “careful investigation by senior detectives” and by the Crown Prosecution Service, which is responsible for filing criminal charges, during a wide-ranging investigation in 2006. The inquiry was prompted by a case involving a News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, who received a four-month jail term in 2007 for hacking into more than 600 messages left on cellphones belonging to three members of Britain’s royal family.
“No additional evidence has come to light since this case has concluded,” Mr. Yates said. He said that his checks on Thursday indicated that many of the cellphone-hacking cases cited by The Guardian in its chronicle of breaches by The News of the World, including the case of John Prescott, a former deputy prime minister who was embroiled in a scandal involving an affair with an office assistant, never actually resulted in the tapping of the cellphones that were targets of hacking.
Assistant Commissioner John Yeats, the News of the World, where are they now?
So, even before the New Dispensation of Maria Miller, or whoever, these things would come to light. There are, thank goodness, a few dirt-diggers and successors to the reptiles that used to frequent the dives behind Fleet Street.
To come to conclusion:
Mrs Maria Miller is a cheat. The Independent Standards Commissioner reckoned she had over-claimed on her mortgage payments by £45,000, which should be repaid. The Committee on Standards reduced Mrs Miller’s pay-back by a trifling 88%. For the record:
- The Chairman of the Standards Committee claimed £1,500 a month to rent a home belonging to Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister responsible for highlighting government sleaze.
- Sir Paul Beresford, the most senior Tory on that Committee, worked out a deal with the House of Commons fees office whereby he put three quarters of the running costs of [his dental surgery] on the taxpayer.
- Christopher Chope, another Tory, who employs his wife Christine as his secretary, transported the sofa from his second home in London to a tradesman near his main residence in his constituency of Christchurch, Dorset.
Mr Chope also used his additional costs allowance (ACA) to fund the £10,377 repair of the roof of the 200-year-old London house that he jointly owns with his wife. He kitted out the property with a bathroom costing more than £2,600 to buy and install – again on the taxpayer.
In March last year the MP submitted the bill for £881.25 to strip down and recover the Chesterfield sofa. The Dorset craftsman sent the invoice to Mr Chope’s constituency home even though he claimed the cost for his second home.
- Nick Harvey,the Lib Dem MP for North Devon, had an interesting moment when he attended a Remembrance Day commemoration:
Yes: upstanding personages, well capable of adjudging what is a justified parliamentary expense.
To which we can now fairly add:
Mrs Maria Miller would like to be a bully.
She’s just an incompetent one.