By George Parker and Elizabeth Rigby
David Cameron tried to reassert his authority over the Conservative party last night after weeks of damaging headlines forced the resignation of his culture secretary and weakened his leadership.
The prime minister told MPs to focus on the economy ahead of European and local elections, as he attempted to put the debilitating row over Maria Miller’s expenses behind him.
Mr Cameron was accused by Ed Miliband, Labour leader, of being “an apologist for unacceptable behaviour” after a week in which he backed Ms Miller despite hostile media and public opinion and evaporating support among Tory MPs.
Downing Street insisted that Ms Miller had taken the decision to resign without being pushed by Mr Cameron or his aides. He denied he had shown a lack of leadership and said that to get rid of someone “at the first sign of trouble” would have been a sign of weakness.
In an effort to reassert control Mr Cameron last night sacked Michael Fabricant from his role as party vice-chairman for greeting Ms Miller’s resignation with the tweet: “About time.”
Ms Miller’s resignation led to the elevation of Sajid Javid, a former Deutsche Bank managing director, as secretary of state for culture. He is the first Asian man to sit in the cabinet.
Mr Javid, former City minister, is a protégé of George Osborne, prompting some Tory MPs to say the chancellor had helped reshape the cabinet. But his aides said it was “absurd” to suggest Mr Osborne was pulling the strings. “He’s in Brazil,” said one.
Nicky Morgan, a junior Treasury minister, was promoted to replace Mr Javid as City minister, while Andrea Leadsom, another highly rated former banker, became economic secretary to the Treasury.
The reshuffle was criticised by women’s groups after it was revealed Mr Javid would take on Ms Miller’s responsibilities for equalities while her women’s portfolio would pass to Ms Morgan, who is not a full cabinet member.
Friends of Ms Miller say she had little choice but to resign amid the frenzy surrounding her expenses from 2005-2009. Pressure had been growing on her after she was ordered to repay £5,800 in overclaimed expenses on her second home. (FT)