It is open season on Maria Miller. According to the Mail and the Telegraph, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is a waste of space and the sooner she is sacked, and her effete department broken up, the better. We can expect more of this stuff, for when an attack like this gets going other dogs soon join the baying pack. Weekend papers may well join in.
No big deal, you may say. Ministers are always being attacked and it’s part of their job to cope. Except that this time I would say we are not looking at the usual political mischief-making but something more self-interested and underhand.
This is intimidation. Maria Miller is being attacked because she has a decision to make about press regulation and the people who run the Mail and the Telegraph don’t trust her.
In a couple of weeks she must decide what becomes of the draft Royal Charter put forward by that shadowy body PressBoF (dominated by the Mail and the Telegraph), and while she considers her view those newspapers are reminding her, in that way they have, that they know where she lives.
Look at the attacks. The first came from the Mail, a rambling, sour article that mocked her looks and called her names but had almost nothing of substance to say except that she did not engage the electorate and was not Margaret Thatcher.
And then came the Telegraph’s article, whose principal justification and source was – the article in the Mail. This was mentioned twice, implying that in the view of the Telegraph anything in the Mail must by nature have foundation and be important.
The Mail and the Telegraph, it goes without saying, are entirely free to be unpleasant to Maria Miller and her department in print, and long may they remain so, but they might be more honest with their readers if they explained why they were attacking her. It’s a little like an MP declaring an interest.
Here is the choice Miller has to make, that the papers want to influence.
She has before her a proposal from the press barons of PressBoF for a Royal Charter that fails to meet any of the criteria or to comply with the basic formalities of application. And she also has before her the draft Royal Charter that embodies the recommendations of a year-long, judge-led public inquiry and is backed by all the parties in Parliament and by the leading victims of press abuse.
There should be little doubt about which she will send forward to the Privy Council, especially as she has publicly said of Parliament’s Royal Charter:
‘It is the right way forward. It is very much in the spirit of what Lord Justice Leveson is proposing and we do think that it will provide a material improvement in the self-regulation of this country. It is something that we are actively working on now and looking to implement.’
Will she bend under pressure from the Mail and the Telegraph? Let us hope not, however vile they may be.
Brian Cathcart is Executive Director of Hacked Off.