Budget – Hammond Master of Coins

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Quite a lot of chat about the tax rises in yesterday budget which clearly are going to affect many people especially freelancers / self employed. My take is that this is really challenging but the Government still does not have sufficient revenue for its spend. We still have a deficit and so tax rises are not exactly a surprise. Of course that hurts people too and that obviously not good! More broadly the situation is exacerbated by technological/structural changes aligned to an ever growing need for state spend, whether that be NHS, an ageing population and social care. Lets for once park Brexit but clearly not a plus financially, at least for the next 5 and more likely 10 years. 

UK still has (in term of our taxes) a 20th Century linear system for a digital world. Not fit for purpose – Hence no surprise it does not work particularly well.

Furthermore we duck tough calls. Whether it is Trident renewal – is that really the best use of our resources when conventional military force is so depleted – could we get better bang for buck by increased funding for navy, army and air force? I’d prefer we use a significant proportion of Trident money for updating our regular military and on homeland security. What about our insistence in being pretty much the biggest GDP% foreign aid donor in the world – is Cameron/Obsborne’s policy so smart or are we still all paying for their Tory rebranding exercise?  Why is 0.7% the magic number – is it not itself arbitrary?

Not sure how many people are in favour of the UK being no 1 in the planet amongst major economies for foreign aid donation? Perhaps some people are really proud of this use of their tax money! So we spend in ways that not everyone understands and I guess the revenue has to come from somewhere, but totally understand how people get upset with these changes.

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Israel and Obama

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W.C. Fields famously said “Never Work with Animals or Children”. Around the time I left University when Victoria Beckham was a singer and rather than a fashion icon and matriarch and Blair was lauded and respected rather than…. you get the picture, I decided that I would stay out of debating Middle East matters and contrasting positions, in particular as pertains to Israel/Palestine.

Sure I knew that I supported Israel then as I do now. However on the particulars and merits of any given policy I would refrain from taking a view. I adopted this approach upon the realisation that Israel/Palestine may be described in two words – “Its Complicated”.

I don’t mean these words in the sense of some noughties teenage drama, or as a preamble to speech that “it is you and not me”.  I simply mean that whilst naturally I have an opinion on given matters, I am mindful there is so much I don’t know and that those on the ground, whether they be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem across the Israeli political spectrum or for that matter in Ramallah, have greater knowledge about these matters and the realities of living and operating in Middle East than I do living in London.

It is a policy of abstinence I have held for the best part of 20 years. It stood firm until the last ten days and the actions taken by the Obama Administration at the United Nations. Happy New Year from the outgoing White House and State Department – They pulled me back.

My background and expertise is in media and law. I am a lawyer and talent agent and my work involves lots of positioning and negotiation. It is seeking to optimise outcomes – akin to taking a particular hand and endeavouring to improve it and then play it.  Whilst of course Middle East peace is, to say the least, exponentially more complex and difficult, the principles of any negotiation are broadly the same.

Imagine if in a negotiation the most significant point on which contrary views existed was at the outset pronounced as settled. Two things would ensue. Firstly, one party would have nothing to offer, as you cannot give that you do not have it. Secondly, the other party would have no incentive to compromise, because again why negotiate for something that has already been pronounced as yours? Rather than increasing the probability of a settled outcome, such pronouncement would have the opposite effect.

UN resolution 2334 is such a pronouncement. It does not aid negotiation or compromise. It kills it. In a region where killing is real rather than metaphoric, it increases the prospect of terror, military action and its repeat cycle. It serves to make war more rather than less likely.

The actions of the Obama Administration, taken during its lame duck period and against the clear wishes of the United States Congress and those of the incoming Administration inflames a region which has gasoline in abundance.

The resolution condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” It lists among those measures “the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”

It calls on member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.  The language is absolutist.  It makes no distinction between Jews preying at the Western Wall and living in an undivided Jerusalem and those living in disparate outposts deep in the West Bank. Nuance and shade are marked only by their absence.

It purports to nullify any Israeli rights across the Green Line, rather than allow for these to be subject to negotiation as between the parties alongside all other issues. Given the failure to date of Israelis and Palestinians to find mutual ground, it is unclear how anyone can genuinely believe that the prospect of reaching a settlement are enhanced by seeking to impose positions on matters fundamental to the conflict? Logically both sides are now more likely to draw to maximalist positions with all that entails.

During the eight years of the Obama Administration and since his landmark speech at Cairo University in 2009, over 400,000 have died in the Syrian civil war whilst an arc of instability has only worsened across the Middle East and spread into Turkey. Meanwhile an economically stagnate Europe, faced with issues on all flanks including significant exposure on homeland security has no shortage of turmoil. Then there is Russia and China with the multitude of issues and challenges they each bring into play.

By any objective measure Israel/Palestine is not the most pressing issue, or even near to being so, facing the region let alone the wider world. That it is Israel beyond all other countries that clearly animate the Obama Administration is an uncomfortable reality. Others may choose to describe this and its negative emphasis on Israel differently. Regardless as to motivation, the Administration’s decision to orchestrate fundamental change which is adverse to Israel and to the prospects for peace during its final month of office and thereby overturn 40 years of United States policy at the UN Security Council makes the merit of its action all the more questionable.

 

 

Brexit Observations – One Week On

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 14.43.51Think most of us have serious ‘Referendum Fatigue’…and clearly the run to wherever we are headed (and who really knows where that is?) is going to be choppy.

That all said, by Day 8 (2nd July 2016) post vote the following can be discerned:

i) Footsie is higher than before vote – though in part fuelled by promise of more cheap money from ‘BoE’. Economy slowing down. Base rate to remain on the floor through into 2020s, though with Japan having been there since the 90s, perhaps naive to think it would have ever been otherwise.

ii) Sterling is down by about circa 10% – pluses and minus from that.  It is likely ‘a wash’ and of course currencies rise and fall over time anyhow.  Not really something to get worked up by one way or the other;

iii) NZ has offered the Brits secondment of their civil service across trade negotiations because we have not done a trade contract since the 60s!  Lets just hope we don’t bring in as external consultants the same lawyers and bankers who did the due diligence on BHS £1 sale – better for us to have a DoJ filing indictments;

iv) French have intimated that freedom of movement is up for discussion and our border remains in Calais.  Highly unlikely that will change.

Europe is too important to us and UK too important to Europe for each side to fail to cut a deal.  The UK will leave the EU and a sui generis relationship will be established.

The Government called the Referendum and to have failed to put in place any planning for what was a binary choice (IN/OUT) is ridiculous.

Still we basically know the two issues will be (a) access to Single Market [and] (b) Freedom of Movement.  All else a side show.  Trade off between ‘a’ and ‘b’ and again we surely will cut a deal.  The tough part is getting there.

v) Bill introduced by US Senate within first week – UK Trade Continuity Act – the ‘back of the line’ intimated by POTUS (Obama Administration now in final lap anyhow) is unlikely;

vi) New PM and Government on its way – Osbourne will leave Treasury too.

New Government won’t be tied to an arbitrary target to clear the deficit which made no sense anyhow (remember the OBR ‘Roller Coaster’?).

The Cameron Tory Administration will have lasted just 16 months.  Interestingly, the Coalition appears to have been a better and certainly more stable government than the truncated majority Cameron administration;

vii) Scotland – SNP likely bluffing.  Their room for manoeuvre is significantly more limited than in 2014 though their desire for Independence higher.  That’s the paradox – they want that which they will find significantly more challenging to have.

Doubt there will be a second Independence Referendum for remainder of this decade at least.

Westminster should consent to this only on the basis that it must follow any subsequent UK/EU deal.

Parallel with this, UK will move towards full federalism and Scotland will be allowed its own immigration quota.   Meanwhile one point that is not mentioned, the nonsense of English, Welsh and NI students paying full Uni fees in Scotland, whilst all other EU nationals are exempt will come to an end.

vii) Corbyn implodes – Goes to prove that every cloud has its silver lining.

Upshot –  We probably should all calm down.
Things will change (a bit) and United Kingdom will go on a (quite limited) different trajectory from where it was before 23rd June 2016.

There will be pluses and minuses from this and we won’t be able to ascertain whether the right call was made by our country for at least a decade.

The implications arising Brexit will take years to play out.  For the present, we surely need to get on with it and not re-litigate a Referendum which is now done.

Trump – POTUS 45

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 15.18.16People who know me probably know that I am a bit of a politics geek.

So on the day that Trump has secured the GOP nomination, here’s my take.

On balance I think he will be POTUS 45 and not simply because Back to The Future 2 seemed to predict so much!  Too many reasons to explore in detail but here are the headlines:

1) Living Standards have been stagnate for most Americans for two generations. ‘Main Street’ has been hammered. The status quo is not that appealing to them. In fact their view is that it sucks.

2) 9/11 – Since then US foreign policy has been a disaster. 15 years now, US money, lives, power and time has equalled so little achievement overseas on any metric. Meantime China just gets stronger. If Bush 43 was a calamity with the wars, Obama has just been insipid. When Trump says that the “US does not win any more” it has traction with much of the country- even if and perhaps because the NY Times condescends.

3) Hilary will be painted as a 3rd Term Obama (she has foolishly in part run as this) but without his qualities – “Crooked Hilary” will be repeated ad nauseam and lets see where we go with the email server thing?

4) Hilary is not a great stump candidate and a 3rd Obama Term = Status Quo. Good luck with that!

5) Trump is not wedded to any principles whatsoever. NONE. He will be Top Gun candidate – Just play on repeat…. USA USA USA/WIN WIN WIN – it will have traction. Believe it.

Will come down to the electoral maths (hello Ohio and watch NY) but folks its going to be way closer than the pundits say.

Oh and if I am wrong – throw this analysis back at me in November;-)

Brian Williams – Blinded By the Sun

‘You’re wasting your time and my time as well
L-I-living a lie, I guess time will tell
You’re making excuses for the things you’ve never done
Walking in circles, blinded by the sun’.
Sea Horses – Blinded by the Sun (1997)

Not yet 40, by 1997 Brian Williams was already heir apparent to Tom Brokaw and America’s number 1 newscast. Having joined NBC in 1993 his career was to develop with the anchor chair as Brokaw’s successor on NBC Nightly News never far from view.

Square jawed, handsome and then a weekend anchor, his resume included time as NBC White House Correspondent covering the Clinton Administration and further anchor duties on the network’s new cable news channel MSNBC. Williams was firmly ensconced to a preordained destination. He had come a long from way from growing up on the Jersey Shore.

Planned with a mixture of technical thought and pomposity that no one does better than a US television network, NBC announced in a news conference in May 2002 the succession of Williams for Brokaw on Nightly News. The date set 2 and 1/2 years hence to take us past the November 2004 Presidential Election, the effective end of a Presidential Cycle and into the twilight zone between election and inauguration. Brokaw’s last night in the anchor chair was Wednesday December 1st, 2004. On Thursday December 2nd with the change in headline title, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams commenced. The crown prince became king.

Plenty has been written already about Williams mis-remembering. His Chinook was not shot down in Iraq in 2003 albeit it was forced to land and he did spend two nights in the desert following the helicopter in front taking fire. Staying with the Iraq theme, in his recollections of the story over the years Williams had ‘sexed up’ the facts.

Arguably Williams might have ridden this out as a somewhat generously put case of overly enthusiastic recall. After all and to borrow the popular joke, no one else in America has been held to account for the debacle of the Iraq war – why make Williams the exception? Interesting parallel here at home, the only persons in the UK to lose their jobs over Iraq were also journalists and in the media. These were then Radio 4 Today reporter Andrew Gilligan and BBC Director General Greg Dyke.

One is tempted to ask what is about Iraq that is so dangerous to journalists whilst politicians seem almost Teflon?

Reverting back to Williams, the problem became truly toxic and almost certainly terminal to his position as anchor of Nightly News once doubts emerged over the veracity of his recall and post event commentary on Katrina. Mis-remembering over Iraq became a catalyst for a broader examination of Williams record and statements, most significantly arising from his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

NBC’s interim 6 month suspension of Williams, without pay, is likely cover for due process from which termination of his recently signed 5 year $50 million contract will almost certainly result. The personal and professional cost to Williams of his actions has in every sense been enormous.

If Iraq is quagmire still characterised on both sides of the Atlantic by denial, opaqueness and a sense of there being a continued absence of political accountability, the 1800 or so casualties of Hurricane Katrina and the ineptitude of the response of the Federal Government, touches arguably a rawer nerve in the United States.

That the ball was dropped in the Homeland spectacularly, in response to a natural disaster affecting its own, continues to the present day to be a source of shame and anguish to many Americans. There is in the public mind, no room for ambiguity as to the failure of multiple branches of the US Government. If America and more broadly the West today accepts the sheer impossibility of nation building in the Middle East, few if any Americans, nearly a decade later, feel the same way about Katrina.

For the country’s top anchor to fabricate recall and in so doing place himself at events in New Orleans he was either not there to see (the Super Dome suicide) or did not happen (floating bodies in French Quarter) was simply unforgivable.
The question is why did he do it?

Any answer is of course speculative but the other ‘anchor’ that it was last week announced would be vacating the chair, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, calls it “Infotainment confusion syndrome”.

Williams is likeable and amiable. In each of the last five years, he has averaged more than 25 appearances on America’s late night talk shows and popular entertainment programmes. As an American might say, do the math and it is one appearance every two weeks.

If the likes of Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Stephen Colbert have in recent years led the move from satire into news, then implicitly with NBC’s direction and blessing, Williams was at the vanguard of the move from the opposite direction. In US news and entertainment there has been over the last decade a pincer movement.

Of course the driving force is money, technology and shifting demographics. Today’s network news and their anchors are increasingly another branch of the entertainment industry competing for viewers and ad revenues. The anchors are the brand behind which the network’s news operation sits. From this profits then flow.

If there was hubris in William’s recent 10th Anniversary appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where he once more slow jammed the news (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D25l1SWOF9M), it would be churlish not to also acknowledge that he is a talented and engaging performer. The problem is perhaps that belatedly we realise that we don’t want our journalists to perform. We want them to be journalists.

Least us Brits get all sanctimonious, we are not (as ever) too far behind the American model. Whether by means of statist BBC approved mirth as delivered to the populace each year through Children in Need, where our journalists can suddenly express their desire to entertain us in ever more outlandish ways, or Jon Snow at Channel 4 News being permitted to editorialise an appeal from the anchor chair (albeit not part of the broadcast) during last summer’s Gaza conflict, our television journalists seem intent on injecting more of them into news coverage. Williams is simply the leading light of a broader trend.

Whilst the errors in recollection and self aggrandisement of recall are Brian Williams own, to see a likeable man and talented journalist self destruct in this way is nonetheless uncomfortable viewing. A 30 year career of genuine accomplishment should not be defined by its likely end, albeit it now will. This is regrettable. Perhaps however it is the notion that as well as at NBC, we are together all complicit in the deceit that marks the conflation between news and entertainment, which makes this episode more uncomfortable and regrettable still.

Proportionality and Parliament’s Recognition of Palestine – Much to do about Nothing?

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Last week brought about the highly symbolic and yet in geopolitical terms meaningless House of Commons vote recognising Palestine as a state.  From this came the usual ‘friendly’ warnings about Israel losing public support in the West and being in the last chance salon etc.  In turn this brought to mind the somewhat flippant response along the lines of “thanks for this, I really had not noticed there was a growing feeling of antipathy towards Israel in Europe – it all seemed to be going so well!’

I am not seeking to address the merits or otherwise of the vote, not least because I cannot get worked up on something which, other than chiming with the mood music of our times, just means so little. Charitably one might say at least Ed Miliband can remember Palestine even if he forgets our nation’s £100 billion annual budget deficit. Nor do I wish to look at the motivation, political and moral, underpinning Ed Miliband’s decision to three line whip his Parliamentary Party on an issue which has always cut across party lines and has strong views on both sides of the isle.  On this my thoughts can be summed up by one word ..’interesting’. 

Rather, I’d like to briefly return to the summer’s conflict in Israel/Gaza and given my professional background, the question of media coverage and public discourse in relation to this. It is a very challenging topic because the focus and emotional discharge of media coverage and public/political opinion (the two feeding off each other) seems so much out of sync with the corresponding volume emanating from any other conflict reporting/analysis on our planet. In turn this begs the question why?

To pick this up is not to make light of the tragic loss of life (in particular the young and innocent life) that resulted from last summer’s conflict. It is terrible and heart wrenching. Nor is it to become entrenched in a debate as to morality of each party’s actions and the merits or more aptly lack of, in respect of the popular trend to draw moral equivalence between the actors. Others more knowledgeable than me will address these issues so much better than I can.

Rather the question is why public, media and political distress is so exponentially higher as a result of the actions emanating from State of Israel than it appears from any other current and/or recent conflict on the planet? This is despite the fact that objectively and just taking one example, the estimated 200,000 people whose lives have been tragically lost in Syria this decade and the 2.5 million displaced refugees from that conflict, is significantly much worse. There are many other examples of modern conflicts but perhaps you get the point.

Yet at media discussions and forums I attend and where the multitude of ills of the world are aired, Israel and its actions dominate. It dominates in the thoughts and discussions of people, many journalists, whom one accepts are (in generality) well meaning and intelligent. It dominates because emotionally it the actions of the State of Israel which appear to have the greatest impact. Why?

That it is the State of Israel and not – chose any other country you’d like to name – which causes such angst and emotional discharge within the media and public at large is I think the most interesting question. It certainly interests me.

From seeking an answer we can derive a far more accurate picture about the current state of our public discourse, thinking and motivations which underpins, public and private, here in the West and in particular Europe. It is the question which says much more about us than it does about them, being the middle east protagonists on which there are such passionate and distinct views. It is therefore one which we should be able to address insofar as doing so is not dependant on an examination of the parties to the conflict and the markedly differing views as to narrative and merit.

Instead it is about us and our mindset.  

By comparison with the attention given in the public and political spheres to events in Israel/Palestine last summer, the public and political reaction to the terrible death count (primarily civilian) from US/UK bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan upon commencement of our military intervention was relatively mute.  We now seem to travelling on a similar road with Syria.  

Again I am not seeking to address questions as to whether US/UK actions and intervention in the middle east are futile or for that matter the bombing campaigns and the resulting loss of significant civilian life moral. Sure I have a view but I accept it is complex so will park that debate to those again more knowable about these interventions than I am. Instead what I am calling into question, to use the mot de jour, is that much aired concept of ‘proportionality’.

For so many who passionately question the actions of the State of Israel that word means a great deal – we hear it aired in public discourse all the time.  

Hence lets us stay with it but rephrase the use of the word ‘proportionality’. The question of proportionality is not about the military actions of the State of Israel unless in turn one extrapolates the same question to all modern military conflicts on earth (and if one does not – why not?). Rather proportionality is about media and political coverage of the State of Israel and its actions and related to this, the emotional resonance and reaction within the public in the UK and more widely Europe.  

Is the coverage and reaction in public and political discourse to Israel/Palestine and matters related proportional?  If not, what does it say about us?

Interestingly, it was only the events of Israel/Gaza over the summer which led to Jon Snow, a respected and highly esteemed British journalist of 40 years standing, who in that time has either personally witnessed or reported on countless wars and tragedies, to be so moved by what he saw in Gaza this summer to pronounce in a YouTube appeal from the confines of Channel 4 News Studio …”Gaza is not just about them, it’s about us, too”. Why is that?

The genuine distress of an experienced and battle harden journalist was there for all to see. It was etched on his face and clear from his voice. It was real. The question raised as to whether Jon Snow crossed a line in making such appeal and in so doing editorialised network television news is a secondary one.

Naturally there will be varying views on whether a network news anchor should have done this to say nothing of the fact that his pronouncement and appeal was delivered from the confines of the news studio.  My view is that in our world of ever greater multiplicity of news sources and means of dissemination, the public stance of one (albeit well known) television journalist matters does not matter much anyhow.  

Arguably our rules in the UK on impartiality and objectivity for television news were defined for a different and now obsolete media and technological landscape. We have analogue rules for a digital era. Perhaps Jon Snow is merely pushing the the UK regulator (OFCOM) to play catch up and in so doing shift openly Channel 4 News into MSNBC territory, this being a defined political and editorial stance which in the US broadly sits opposite Fox News. Perhaps the more surprising observation is that in permitting such appeal to be recorded from the Channel 4 news studio ITN and Channel 4 seem to be comfortable with this. 

Still if we accept that the issue of editorialising television news is a distraction, the more interesting and significant question, with the benefit of some time passing since the summer’s events, is twofold.  

Firstly, why is it the actions of the State of Israel which have so moved Jon Snow to make an unprecedented appeal to public action as opposed to the countless other terrible and by any objective measure worse conflicts in the world?  

Secondly, why is it that such call to action is largely mirrored by the temperature of political and public discourse here in UK and the West as most recently evidenced by the vote in Parliament last week?  What is the thinking underpinning this action and cycle? As they would say when I was a kid – answers on a postcard please.

For now I am going to leave the last word on this to Matti Friedman – former Associated Press correspondent in Middle East who has raised generally the issue of media coverage of Israel and last summer’s conflict.  The quote below sums up nicely his view on this.  It is certainly thought provoking. ‘Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.’

Israel/Gaza – Round it Goes

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Whilst the loss of life in Gaza amongst the civilian population is horrid, those who focus on it with a passion which has been say wholly absent in respect of say Syria (circa 170,000 dead in last 2 years) reveal their agenda. The passion and anger against Israel is driven by anti-semitism – nothing more or less. The demos here in London – where have these people been the last two years (?), show their true colours and it is not pretty.
Arabs killing arabs in huge numbers – including a significant number of Christians is apparently just fine. No problem…Meanwhile, no gays rights, nor pluralism throughout Arab states – again as per apparent campus and public opinion, no problem! But if Israel says “Hey guys stop throwing your rockets over the fence” (Gaza incidentally is Jew Free – well done them) then there is huge outcry – this is terrible by Israel, after all what is a 1000 or so rockets between friends. Meanwhile Hamas has spent years building tunnels INTO Israel – guess they like the place more than they admit whist deliberately embedding their military infrastructure in civilian population. You see by their narrative, Israel kills Palestinian civilians, that is a Hamas win too.
The West (Canada and Australia the exceptions) prevaricates or reverts to Israel critique modes and the merry-go round just plays round. It is all so very dull and if the West genuinely wanted to help the situation rather than propagate the same game, they would just let the sides get to it – but of course the UN has built a whole industry and employment apparatus on Palestine and the familiar record of anti-semitism, now repackaged 21c. in respect of state which is situate in 0.16% of the shining example of progression and achievement which is the Middle East is far too much fun to leave alone for long. So it just rolls on to the next round.

PM’s response morphs into Millergate and a question of judgment

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Political history has all too frequently demonstrated that it is not the originating wrongful act but the reaction, the attempt to justify or worst still cover up, which inflicts lasting damage.  In our era of attention by 140 characters, public focus moves quickly once a matter is brought speedily to resolution.  Wounds heal and losses are recouped.  Toxicity results from allowing a wound to become septic.

Maria Miller has become septic.

Every action from her and the Miller camp simply results in a greater reaction. For a Prime Minister who undoubtedly has considerable media skill and was in his brief career prior to politics in media and public relations, to allow the issue of Maria Miller’s continuing presence in his government to become one of his own authority, judgment and prestige is extraordinary.

David Cameron’s choice to forgo a quick ministerial resignation, dig in and elevate what otherwise would be a minor set back into a Mexican stand off with the media demonstrates not backbone but obstinance.  Furthermore to have done so when the media appears backed by an overwhelming majority of the public, including Conservative voters, is inexplicable.  The PM’s choice to invest such political capital in defence of his vexatious Culture Secretary whose conduct throughout this whole affair has been led by obfuscation, denial and arrogance calls directly into question his own judgment just a year from a general election the campaign for which has already begun.  That she belatedly resigned this morning does not change this.

Wearily we find ourselves yet again within the realms of an MP who has flipped the primary and secondary designation of their homes.  Whilst an ever greater proportion of the public struggles to acquire one home, two homes is pa for the course for many serving in Parliament.

The ‘flip’ works as follows.  An MP receives reimbursement by the tax payer of the interest payments incurred on their designated second home.  Maria Miller chose this to be her London property in Wimbledon, notwithstanding evidence which points to the fact that it was Wimbledon rather than her constituency home of Basingstoke that she spent a majority of time and family life.

By her own reluctant admission, she over claimed back the interest paid on this property by the sum of £5,800 in excess of the monies she actually paid for interest.  The issue of whether this sum should in fact have been £45,000 as originally indicated as due by Kathryn Hudson is a secondary and more technical one.  There are certainly arguments that it should and Maria Miller was wrong to claim interest for additional borrowing on the property she took out some time post acquisition in 1996 and before her election to Parliament in 2005.  However, even giving Maria Miller the benefit of the doubt on this point, her conduct generally on substance and considerably worse still on the form of her dealing with the investigation led by Kathryn Hudson and then adjudication of the Standards Committee, has been a disgrace.

Staying with the admitted excess claim for mortgage interest, almost every home owner in the country with a mortgage knows their interest rate.  It appears that Maria Miller was not fully across the details of the financial arrangements she has put in place in respect of her Wimbledon home or perhaps more accurately was selectively across such details.  Needless to say, such error of calculation was wholly to Maria Miller’s financial advantage.

The Culture Secretary’s financial acumen extended to the designation of the Wimbledon home between 2005 and 2009 as her secondary residence and taxpayer (over) reimbursement of mortgage interest.  Coincidentally or otherwise she stopped the designation of her London property as her second home in April 2009, apparently one month prior to all MPs receiving a letter informing them that they would be liable for Capital Gains Tax (28%) should they sell a house on which they have claimed as a second home.  To complete the picture, Maria Miller subsequently did sell the Wimbledon property and as per the rules, has not paid Capital Gains Tax on the considerable profits realised.

Hence by the facts as admitted by Maria Miller, we have an individual who is sufficiently across the details and her financial affairs so as to ensure a beneficial tax structure to property holdings, but not sufficiently across the interest payments incurred thereby resulting in an excess claim for mortgage interest.  A perfunctory apology or otherwise, it is clear that a wrong occurred.  Yet the considerably greater wrong has not been the act itself, as petty and unbecoming as it may have been, but the actions of Maria Miller and individuals part of her entourage during and post the investigation.

Much has been written about the scandal of MPs expenses.  Kathryn Hudson is the second Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to run into opposition from certain MPs for doing her job. Of course no one likes being investigated or having to admit to error.  For Maria Miller, attack appears to have been her choice of defence.  Letters from the Culture Secretary which were drafted with legal counsel help sought to circumvent Kathryn Hudson’s investigation and called into question both Kathryn Hudson’s conduct and remit.  For someone who by admission was unable to accurately claim for mortgage interest, Maria Miller’s deployment of focus as demonstrated by this correspondence, to say nothing of her timely withdrawal of secondary designation of the Wimbledon property, suggests that such ability to focus may be selective.

Things continue to go from bad to worse.  Last week the Telegraph published the transcript of a call between Mrs Miller’s adviser Joanna Hindley and its journalist Holly Watt.  Like an extra from the Sopranos, Miss Hindley said “Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editor’s meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to flag up that connection for you to think about”.

How kind of Miss Hindley to conflate the issue of Press Regulation and Leveson with reports pertaining to the Parliamentary Standards investigation into the conduct of her boss.  Miss Hindley’s intervention was as clumsy as ill-judged.

There is then a second disputed call between the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Craig Oliver and the Telegraph’s then editor Tony Gallagher, who claims to also have been threatened with Leveson.  Craig Oliver denies it.  This is not the place to write about Leveson but the potential chilling effect on free speech and investigative journalism seems already to have emerged.

Reverting back to Team Miller, the rank stupidity of Joanna Hindley’s intervention is only rivalled and arguably surpassed by yesterday’s car crash of an interview given by Mary Macleod, her Parliamentary Private Secretary on Sky News with Kay Burley.  She labelled this a media witch hunt, again sought conflation by bringing Leveson back into the mix and weirdly topped this off by suggesting that press reporting was motivated by Maria Miller’s position in support of gay marriage.  She offered no evidence for any of her accusations.  To watch an MP display such incoherence and bluster and be comprehensively demolished by Kay Burley was in equal measure entertaining as it was depressing.

Such puerile a response is matched by Miller’s conduct.  Whether on account of her providing us with the most famous 32 seconds of this Parliament, the ‘perfunctory’ apology, or her 178 word article in today’s Basingstoke Gazette, every choice made leading up to and including the manner of her resignation has been wrong.  Even today and notwithstanding publication of letters from her demonstrating obfuscation, Miller writes “Separately, I have already apologised and repaid an over-claim for my expenses, having myself drawn the committee’s attention to the matter immediately I was aware of it”.

By her conduct, she appears determined to make what should have been a political career set back, career ending.  Her forced resignation this morning does little to mitigate from this.

We have likely now reached the point of no return in this affair.  The issue is not whether Maria Miller departs from Government, as she eventually did today.  For some time that has been a given.  Rather it is whether we have entered Neil Hamilton territory and her re-election to Parliament next year (assuming she stands) is becoming an ever more remote prospect.  What price a Nigel Farage candidacy in her Basingstoke constituency next year?

The Prime Minister and his team need to reflect both on the facts here and their own decision making in seeking to defend what to most Conservative voters, to say nothing of the wider public, appears indefensible.  The General Election campaign has already started and in the Farage/Clegg debates we were treated to what seemed a long advertorial for Farage.  Meanwhile we are just months away from a vote in Scotland which would see the potential dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Rather than support a narrative of a rapidly strengthening economy and Labour incoherence on the deficit –  for reduction but against every measure taken in this Parliament to reduce the rate of growth of Government spending, Cameron has for a week allowed the focus to be internal and on his party. By doing so he has supported the belief that ‘they just don’t get’.  More bewildering still, he has chosen to double down in his defence of Maria Miller and needlessly increase significantly the political cost of her inevitable exit.

Who in Downing Street is responsible for this?

Perhaps after four years in Downing Street, his own judgment has been coloured by feelings towards the media.  The danger is that this debacle will erode the modest chance he and the Conservatives have of forming the next Government, at precisely the time the economy looks set to generate momentum for his party. It can only re-energise the opposition.  It is the choices made by Prime Minister in his response to this matter rather than the arrogance and ill-judgment repeatedly demonstrated by Maria Miller which appears to many as truly inexplicable.