Maria Miller: The 'cack-handed' cover-up attempts that led to a media storm

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

Normally it is the cover-up that does for them and in the Maria Miller's expenses farrago it is a triple whammy.

Maria Miller

The Daily Telegraph had Miller bang to rights on defrauding taxpayers of £90,000 by claiming expenses, against parliamentary rules, for a house she shared with her parents.

Her special adviser tried in vain to get the reporter to drop the investigation with less-than subtle hints that Miller was in charge of press regulation in the wake of the Leveson inquiry, saying: "Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to flag up that connection for you to think about."

When that did not work a call was made to a corporate executive at the Telegraph again using the bogey word Leveson. The failure of that arm twisting to get the story dropped resulted in a sorry attempt by Downing Street to kill off the yarn with Craig Oliver, the prime minister's spokesman, calling the the editor, Tony Gallagher. Surprise, surprise, once again the good judge entered the conversation, so claims Gallagher.

Miller and the Tory spinners say each conversation was to ensure that her elderly father was not doorstepped and was in no way a heavy-handed attempt to bully and threaten with the big stick. Make your mind up.

Cover-up attempt number two was Miller's attempt to thwart the investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Committee through obfuscation, pure bloody mindedness and refusal to answer questions.

Cover-up number three was the decision by a committee of MPs to downgrade the financial penalty decided by the standards committee and try to dilute the seriousness of the offence.

Recent history – from Aitken to Archer to Huhne – shows us that cover-ups lead to higher penalties and in Miller's case she may not only lose her position in cabinet as secretary of state for culture but also her position as an MP next year in the general election.

She is not going to be fired. David Cameron made the snap decision to keep one of the few women in his cabinet but now may be regretting it. In days past "the men in grey suits" would be advising Miller to get Cameron of the hook by resigning for the good of the country and the party; now there will be the men in open neck shirts and floppy hair telling her to go.

Since her 32-second apology of an apology to the House of Commons, pressure has been mounting and not from just the press, who are all of one that she should go, but also from the Tory party who fear that she is symbolising everything that is rotten about MPs.

She has a 13,176 majority in her Basingstoke constituency but it only needs Nigel Farage and Ukip to target the seat for her to face the prospect of looking for a job outside politics next year. Her local Tory big wigs in Hampshire also know all too well the problem of having an expenses fiddler as their MP. Andrew Hunter, the previous incumbent, was found to have his nose in the trough and was forced to quit.

A poll released yesterday shows that 82 per cent of Tory voters think she should be dropped from the cabinet and Ben Harris-Quinney, the director of Conservative Grassroots, said: "There is no doubt that Maria Miller should now resign or be fired, the grassroots of the Conservative Party are resolute in calling for her to go with immediate effect."

The whole affair has been dealt with in the most cack-handed way from the moment Miller handed in her first expenses claim. She has proved to be stupid in not knowing the rules, and by attempting to dodge the consequences. Downing Street allowed itself to be drawn in and tainted, and then put Cameron up front and centre in defending his minister. The knives are out for and it will not take much for Miller to go.

Maybe a police investigation will solve a problem like Maria. Stupidity may be forgiven but not being criminally stupid.