New poll adds to pressure on Maria Miller
PRESSURE is mounting on Prime Minister David Cameron to sack his culture secretary Maria Miller over her expenses claims as a new poll revealed that three-quarters of voters believe she should resign or be removed from her post, and a third of Tory voters feel alienated by the scandal.
The polls came as Tory colleagues, led by employment minister Esther McVey, lined up to criticise Ms Miller over her second home claims and her subsequent 32-second apology to the House of Commons.
A ComRes poll of 2,034 voters, commissioned by pressure group Conservative Grassroots, revealed that 74 per cent of those polled believe the culture secretary should have been sacked, while just eight per cent per cent believe she should remain in her position.
Meanwhile, a Survation poll revealed that 34 per cent of those who voted for the Conservatives in 2010 felt “alienated” by Ms Miller keeping her job.
The row erupted after Ms Miller last week was ordered by the Parliamentary Standards Committee to apologise to the House for delaying an investigation into her expense claims. She was also told to pay back £5,800.
But the Committee itself has been criticised for overturning the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner’s decision calling for Ms Miller to pay back more than £45,000.
And the lack of support for Ms Miller among her Tory colleagues added to the pressure.
Ms McVey, tipped as a future cabinet minister in the next reshuffle. said: “I can honestly say it wouldn’t be how I would have made an apology.
“But different people have different styles and do things in different ways.”
Conservative backbencher Zac Goldsmith declared he was “surprised” that she was still in her job as the party struggled to contain the widespread dismay at the affair.
Tory MP Philip Davies said the row was “extremely damaging” for the Conservative Party and “the sooner the matter is resolved, the better”.
Tory backbencher Mark Field said Mrs Miller’s apology had been “unacceptably perfunctory”. He said there were particularly strong feelings among the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs who had not previously experienced a public backlash over their expenses.
North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the whole of the House of Commons can overturn decisions made by the Committee on Standards and replace them with something “more robust”.
London mayor Boris Johnson added to the pressure, sidestepping questions over whether she should remain in her post while expressing sympathy for the way she had been “hounded”.
It was left to a Liberal Democrat - Schools Minister David Laws, who was previously forced to quit the Government over his expenses - to speak out in her support.
“She’s another member of the Government and of course she has my support, just as she has the Prime Minister’s, which is the support that really counts,” he said.
‘Impartial’ decision reached
Defending his committee’s decision in the case, Standards Committee chairman Kevin Barron insisted his body’s decisions are always impartial and non-partisan.
He said the committee was already considering improvements drawing on the reflections of lay members who would play a “leading role” in any changes.
The Labour MP said: “The committee does not think it’s appropriate to give a running commentary of its decisions in individual cases but at our meeting today the committee authorised me to say that it continues to believe that its individual adjudications are impartial, fair and non-partisan.”
But the Labour leadership said that the scandal brought David Cameron’s judgement into question.
Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said: “Over the last few days we have had a recalcitrant Cabinet minister unwilling to show remorse for obstructing an inquiry by the standards commissioner, and we have had a growing public perception that a committee of MPs has let her get away with it.
“This has thrown doubt on to her conduct and on to the judgment of the Prime Minister, who seems unwilling to act.
“Do you now agree with me the system we have does not command public support and we urgently need reform to restore public trust? Whilst we need time to develop a more radical reform, will you now consider as a matter of urgency removing the Government majority on the standards committee and creating a more prominent role for the lay members?
“Will you also reflect in your answer on what you think should be the appropriate sanctions for an MP who has breached the parliamentary code of conduct with their attitude to an inquiry?”