THE BLOG

Maria Miller - A PR Disaster

09/04/2014 18:13 BST | Updated 08/06/2014 10:59 BST

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller has resigned. I predicted on Twitter that she would go just an hour before she did - so I'm feeling pretty smug but I'm also feeling a bit depressed. I'm glad she's done the right thing but it was a PR disaster of epic proportions.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post here on how to say sorry. Mrs Miller obviously didn't read it! For politicians, saying sorry is always a difficult one but eventually most get it right - they might need a couple of attempts but they generally manage to squeak the right words in the right order to diffuse the situation; or at least offer so many apologies in a short space of time that it becomes so boring the issue gets knocked off the top spot on the news.

Mrs Miller did not do this. Standing up in the House of Commons and speaking for 32 seconds is not an apology - it's what you mumble when you get dragged to the Headmaster's office. 'What do you have to say for yourself Miller?' 'I'm sorry, Sir'. The Headmaster knows you don't mean it; knows you'd do it again tomorrow; knows you'll run back to your classroom laughing, happy to have a bit of drama in your life, only slightly concerned what your Dad will say when you get home - if he finds out.

The Miller apology has to be the shortest by a politician ever on record. And that's its deadly mistake. None of the papers were in the slightest bit interested in what was contained within it - they were just reporting its brevity. Now this might not have mattered if Mrs Miller had, for example, quoted the wrong statistics in a debate or something equally insignificant. But we are talking about misuse of taxpayers' money. When you over claim on your expenses you are starting a chain of events that requires way longer than 32 seconds to say sorry. Any competent PR person or political adviser would have recommended 10 minutes minimum - with a great deal of contrition and self-blame thrown in.

Sadly for Mrs Miller whoever advised her didn't do it very well. And didn't spot the obvious fact that the British people would go absolutely nuts when they heard her apology. This was compounded by David Cameron's unfathomable decision to continue to back her - also a gigantic mistake for him and the Party. The Conservative leadership have not had a good few weeks in terms of communications and this epic fail has only made matters worse. It again plays into the hands of those who say the Party is out of touch. It's OK for Maria Miller to fiddle her expenses, over claim our money, and get away with it but not for us plebs. Cameron's reaction also made us ask why he was so keen to back her. Was it something to do with the lack of women in the cabinet and the lack of people who went to a state comprehensive? Or, as her aide's rather strange and slightly threatening phone call to The Telegraph intimated, is it that she knows where the important political bodies are buried re: Levenson?

We can speculate forever as to why it took so long for Mrs Miller to resign - or for Cameron to push her. But what's absolutely for sure is that it was totally avoidable. Crisis management did not feature in this one and nowadays for senior politicians to operate without decent PR advice or a crisis plan is really quite shocking. In this case it's all the more bizarre because it's not like Mrs Miller didn't see this coming. The over claim has been going on for years. Even the most naïve person must have wondered if it would eventually blow up in their face. Which leads me, and many others, to wonder whether it was just pure arrogance. Cameron said he was going to 'clean up' politics. If this disaster is anything to go by he'd better get cracking before the papers start digging for dirt before the general election - because they will - and if there are any other apologies to be made they'd better be longer than 32 seconds.