Words of thanks to Maria Miller and the heroic Joanna Hindley
MARIA Miller proves that politicians apply pressure on the media. Miller is the Conservative MP for Basingstoke and Culture Secretary being investigated for claiming over £90,000 expenses for a second home where her parents live. She says she’s done nothing wrong. Indeed, far from it. She has done us all a favour. She has shown everyone that the press are not the sole aggressors. She has shown that politicians can be deceiving and work to squash the facts.
Or, rather, her aide Joanna Hindley has, reportedly. When a Daily Telegraph started asking about Miller’s expenses, they were warned off.
“When a reporter approached Mrs Miller’s office last Thursday, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley, pointed out that the Editor of The Telegraph was involved in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary over implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson. Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,” said Miss Hindley.
Hindley thought it good idea for the reporter to talk over the matter with “people a little higher up your organisation”. Hindley contacted The Telegraph’s head of public affairs to discuss the matter.
The prime minister’s spokesman says: “She was raising legitimate concerns about the way in which the investigation had been handled. It is perfectly reasonable for her to do that.”
“She made clear that Maria Miller was in contact with the editor and would be raising those concerns directly. I understand that a letter has been sent.”
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman added:
“Mrs Miller’s special adviser raised concerns with a journalist about the nature of an approach to Mrs Miller’s elderly father. Her adviser noted that Mrs Miller was in contact with the paper’s editor and would raise her concerns directly with him, which Mrs Miller did subsequently. However, this is a separate issue to ongoing discussions about press regulation. Mrs Miller has made the Government’s position on this clear.”
Separate? So why conflate the two, then, if not to bully and cajole?
Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, replies:
“We don’t need statute. You only have to look at the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph to realise what happens when politicians do get involved.”
The State must never be allowed to run the Press.
But Guardian’s Michael White seems confused:
Should Maria Miller’s special adviser have reminded – ‘flagged up’ was the verb of choice – the Daily Telegraph that the boss is currently involved in discussions over the new post-Leveson regime for press regulation when the paper started sniffing around her expenses claims over her London home, the one where her parents also live?
Probably not in the current inflamed climate, I’d say.
Should the Telegraph have made an issue of its hurt feelings in today’s edition? Probably not.
The Telegraph did the right thing. It published the story and the the warning from Miller’s aide.
Iain Martin writes:
You don’t even have to read between the lines here. It’s bold as brass: my boss knows your boss; she’s taking some big decisions which could impact on the publication you work for; watch your step sunshine, you are just a little reporter person; call someone more senior while I get on the phone to your public affairs people.
What is this if not proof that the political class should not be allowed within a mile of regulating the press? They are at it even before they have got oversight of regulation. Mrs Miller should at the very least stand aside from the Leveson process.
You don’t even have to read between the lines here. It’s bold as brass: my boss knows your boss; she’s taking some big decisions which could impact on the publication you work for; watch your step sunshine, you are just a little reporter person; call someone more senior while I get on the phone to your public affairs people. What is this if not proof that the political class should not be allowed within a mile of regulating the press? They are at it even before they have got oversight of regulation.
The account features in the Telegraph:
“This organisation first approached the culture secretary’s office on Thursday afternoon last week, a day before David Cameron announced that the government would be backing gay marriage and allowing ceremonies to take place in some churches.
When a reporter approached Mrs Miller’s office last Thursday, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley, pointed out that the editor of the Telegraph was involved in meetings with the prime minister and the culture secretary over implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson.
‘Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,’ said Miss Hindley.
Miss Hindley also said the reporter should discuss the issue with ‘people a little higher up your organisation’.
Miss Hindley immediately contacted the Telegraph’s head of public affairs to raise concerns about the story. The news group decided to delay publication in order to ensure the facts were correct.
Having carried out further checks, the newspaper concluded that the story was accurate and decided to publish the article at the first opportunity, meaning it appeared on the day same-sex marriage was debated in the Commons.
Miss Hindley also accused the Telegraph of harassing Mrs Miller’s father, John Lewis.
In fact, reporters had a brief conversation with Mr Lewis in order to establish how long he had lived with Mrs Miller. Over the course of the conversation, Mr Lewis said he enjoyed reading the Telegraph.
Mrs Miller also contacted the Telegraph to complain about her parents being approached.
‘Irrespective of whatever you are investigating, I cannot see a justification for this family intrusion. I should be grateful if you could confirm that you now understand the basis of my concern and that on reflection this could have been handled differently,” wrote Mrs Miller.
She also claimed that the journalist had not identified herself at the start of the conversation, which was inaccurate.”
Over in the Standard, Joe Murphy has word with Miller:
Culture Secretary Maria Miller today denied using her position overseeing the Leveson reforms of the press to warn off a newspaper that was investigating her expenses. In an interview with the Evening Standard she said she complained because her disabled father was “doorstepped” by a journalist, but denied that she linked her complaint to the setting up of a new independent press regulator.
Is she prejudiced? Can’t a disabled older person field a question? Are they rendered useless by their age and disability? What about the Paralympics legacy, Maria?
“This has nothing to do with the Leveson inquiry,” she said. “My concern is that any investigation is done in accordance with the rules, the editor’s code. What I did was to contact the editor of the Telegraph directly to express my concern at the way his investigation was being undertaken.”
Murphy says “Prime Minister’s communications chief Craig Oliver ‘warned off’ its [Telegraph] editor by again raising her Leveson role.”
Miller digs on:
Asked if the actions of her special adviser — who reportedly said “I am just going to flag up that connection for you to think about” — gave a threatening impression, Mrs Miller said the point was that the paper’s “approach was not correct”.
“The journalist hadn’t contacted my office first. She had doorstepped a member of my family, a person who is not in public life, a person ill equipped to deal with national media enquiries on my behalf,” she said.
She means her dad.
We turned to her expenses. At issue are claims totalling £90,718 between 2005 and 2009 for a property in Wimbledon where her parents also lived — an arrangement that some say broke parliamentary rules.
“Those expenses have been audited twice independently so I think everything’s in order,” said Mrs Miller.
Who were these independent auditors? One, she said, was Sir Thomas Legg, the former civil servant who ordered 389 MPs to repay sums wrongly claimed in 2009.
Did Sir Thomas know her parents lived there? Mrs Miller was unclear. “I obviously spoke to the Fees Office about my claims and they were happy that everything was in order,” she said.
And who was the second “independent auditor”? The Culture Secretary replied that it was the Conservative Party which “audited all Conservative MPs’ expenses”. Her definition of independent may raise some eyebrows as the Tory panel was headed by the then Chief Whip and David Cameron’s chief of staff.
I suggested that some members of the public might simply think it doesn’t smell right that Mrs Miller, who treats the Wimbledon property as her family home, listed it as a second home for expenses purposes, and a rented house in Basingstoke as her main home.
“MPs live in two places and that’s what the rules reflected,” she responded. “And as I said, my expenses have been looked at in detail twice by two separate organisations and have been found to be entirely in order.”
So why, then, did she suddenly stop claiming on the Wimbledon home in 2009 — just as the expenses scandal erupted. “Because I think there was a lot of concern about the rules and, er, a lot of concern about, you know, the whole issue, and it’s something I felt that I didn’t want to be, sort of, mixed up in, the fact that I …” Mrs Miller finally stopped trying to explain herself, and simply said: “I just made that decision.”
Did she feel perhaps her expenses did not look right? “No.”So why stop claiming? “I’ve just said.”
Such are the facts….