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Monday, 7 April 2014

How do you solve a problem like "Maria" Miller?

Over the weekend the expenses scandal has re emerged thanks to conservative MP for Basingstoke that big Tory area? Five days after that 32-second apology in the House of Commons, Maria Miller continues to generate awkward headlines. Speculation about the culture secretary's future won't go down well either in Downing Street or in the Wales Office. With David Cameron standing by his minister, the more mischievous speculation among MPs and journalists at Westminster suggests that rather than sacking Mrs. Miller, the prime minister could move her to a lower-profile role - such as secretary of state for Wales - in the reshuffle expected at the end of next month. Mrs. Miller may be MP for Basingstoke but she grew up in Bridgend, where her parents lived until they moved to London to share what became one of the best-known MPs' second homes. So why not give her the chance to return to her roots? The beleaguered minister would be taken out of the firing line and David Cameron would avoid losing a woman from around his cabinet table. Problem solved! Or perhaps not. Replacing David Jones with Mrs. Miller would not go down well with either Mr. Jones or with Welsh Tories despite public disagreements with the party's group in the National Assembly for Wales. One MP told me it would be a "disaster". The idea that someone seen as unsuitable for a cabinet role because she miss-used the expenses system could be reshuffled to Wales would not be universally applauded west of Offa's Dyke. It would be a gift to the Tories' opponents, with shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith tweeting: "Rumours that Maria Miller is set to become Welsh secretary in a forthcoming reshuffle. What have we done to deserve that?" Did she owe £5,800 or £45,000? The Standards Commissioner thought it should be the higher amount. Why? Because Kathryn Hudson concluded that Maria Miller could only claim the interest on the purchase price of her "second home" in 1996. The MPs on the Committee on Standards (which reviews the ruling above) disagree. They say Mrs Miller was entitled to claim interest on the value of the mortgage as it was in 2005 - when Mrs Miller was elected to Parliament as an MP. The Chair of that Committee, Kevin Barron (a Labour MP) firmly stands by that conclusion. Did she 'flip' her second home to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax? More complex. From 1996-2005 the house in question (in Wimbledon, in south-west London) was owned by Mrs Miller in her private capacity (as a non-MP). From her election in 2005 and until 2009, it was designated her second home - and thus she was entitled to claim for the mortgage interest on it - as the rules were then on MPs expenses. In April 2009, she stopped claiming for the London house. But neither did she claim for her constituency home in Basingstoke. So she made no second home claims from that date. Her office says she stopped making those claims before she received a letter informing all MPs that they would now be liable for Capital Gains Tax (currently 28%) should they sell a house on which they have claimed as a second home. The letter arrived at the end of May 2009, her office claims. This means from 2009 to 2014 - Maria Miller made no claims for either her London home or her Basingstoke home. She currently rents a property in London (as the new expenses regime recommends). In February 2014 - the London home is sold - at a profit. Any Capital Gains Tax due (and it's not clear if there is) would fall in the tax year 2013/14 and so would not need to be paid until January 2015. Was her apology too short? Watch: Maria Miller's apology to MPs on expenses It was short - of that there can be no doubt. The 32-second long statement was described by Labour MP Sheila Gilmore today as "inadequate to the point of being contemptuous". It reinforces the perception that she didn't care and further damages her after the Committee and Commissioner claimed Mrs Miller has breached the code of conduct by her "attitude" to the investigation. That may in the end do the most damage. The public like to see their public servants acting in a contrite way when they have made a mistake. It would be safe to say Mrs Miller's apology did not satisfy the public demands on a level of length, contrition or detail. Her office says MPs apologies have historically been short. Although I am not sure comparing her apology to the one made by Nadine Dorries (23 seconds) is a particularly wise move Clearly she has to go fiddling your expenses to cover your second or third home is a disgrace and by her hanging around just makes the Tories look out of tough, which of course they are which is why she hasn’t offered her resignation. One last point remember back after the riots of 2011 a guy who stole a bottle of water was given 2 years in jail well Maria may wish to consider her stealing from the public purse and getting away with it and its inconsistencies. Is it any wonder people think all politicians are in it for themselves??

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