Monday, 7 April 2014

Maria Miller and the perversion of politics

To agree with Norman Tebbit is either the mark of a drift into senescent fascism or an indication that we are living in the last days.  Watching the casuistry surrounding the barnacle-clinging to office exhibited by the risible Maria Miller is reminiscent of a cross between Kafka and a third-rate farce, a reminder of how Cameron is a prisoner of his own party and as devoid of moral compass as his political heroes in New Labour.

No rational person would expect their politicians to be devoid of human frailty.  This would make them even more unrepresentative than they are already.  One expects Tories to be grasping, venal and contemptuous of those outside their self-interested circle.  One expects them to be so devoid of honour that they need to be ejected by force when proved beyond doubt to have misbehaved, even when a reasonable observer needs to hold their nose to exclude the stench of moral turpitude.

Miller's behaviour is only explicable through the hubris of the deluded.  Her perfunctory apology to the House of Commons for what amounted to the receipt of corrupt payments undid all the good work that has been done over MPs standards - not a admission of culpability or even stupidity (which would be a perfectly plausible explanation) but a sulky adolescent caught smoking behind the bike sheds.  An insult to Parliament, and an insult to the electorate.

Recognising that this was already a watered-down sanction, compared to a more meaningful repayment recommended by the independent standards watchdog, Miller's hubris has unleashed a defining moment in the modern Tory party.  To listen to Cameron's defence, and that of her neighbouring nonentity MP Steve Brine, you would have thought that Miller being detected in the act of breaking the rules condemns those who investigated and proceeded to reveal this, as it shines an unwarranted light into the morals and motivations of the self-regarding mediocrities who make up the majority of the political class (in all parties).

However, there are a number of further, more fundamental problems coming to light.  The fate of a third-rate over-promoted Minister is only interesting insofar as it further weakens the Tories.  What is much more concerning to anyone with a belief in representative government is the use of Special Advisers to intimidate and threaten those on her case.  The Special Adviser is the Trojan Horse of politicising the civil service - a further example of weakening and undermining both the integrity and status of government which allows more to be outsourced and democratic accountability to be watered down.  To make clear links between, let it not be forgotten, the Tory press investigating corruption and the potential for further media regulation is at the very least distasteful, at worst a sanctioned abuse of power that should see both Miller and the Cabinet Secretary, the ridiculous Francis Maude, seeking the solace of the backbenches.

No wonder, in the context of Major and Osborne's crony capitalism and naked cynicism promoting inter-generational strife, that the Miller issue has resonated in much the same way that the "back to basics" trope undermined John Major (a figure who looks more and more statesmanlike in the context of the current shower of spivs).  Former Labour MPs were jailed for their corruption - but Miller's tax avoidance and sophistry appears not even to merit the slightest sanction from the Tories even when proven to the point where a reasonable person would admit to its likelihood, and where a sceptic or paid apologist would be brushing up their CV.

Miller's presence in government is a reminder that the Tories don't and can't change.  As a wounded administration limps on, the onus is on the opposition and the Liberal Democrats to keep the issue in the spotlight - so Danny Alexander's idiotic support for her was completely unnecessary.  Clegg, for once, hit the right note by pointing out that these appointments were entirely in Cameron's gift.  Labour need to go for the jugular - it will drive decent Tories away from supporting the party, because it is clear that the venality and hypocrisy in this case is a demonstration that there is no change in the political and moral corruption sanctioned by the imperative to cling on to office and deny any culpability.

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