POLITICS

Maria Miller Expenses Row A 'Plague' On Conservative Party, David Cameron Warned

08/04/2014 08:11 BST | Updated 08/04/2014 08:59 BST
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
File photo dated 01/10/13 of Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport Maria Miller, as pressure on her over her expenses claims was stepped up as the Daily Telegraph released an audio tape of a phone call between an aide to the Culture Secretary and a reporter investigating her expenses.

Maria Miller appears increasingly isolated within the Conservative Party this morning amid the ongoing row over her expenses claims.

David Cameron has stood by his culture secretary, resisting calls for her to resign and insisting she is doing a "good job". However public support from Miller's cabinet colleagues has been less than forthcoming and the political press is awash with quotes from Conservative MPs worried about the damage being done by the row.

The Commons standards committee has come in for fierce criticism since overruling an independent report that recommended Miller repay £45,000 in over-claimed expenses. Instead, the cross-party body ordered her to say sorry and hand back just £5,800.

Miller has also been fiercely criticised for the manner and length of her apology in the Commons - which was viewed by some as too defiant and too short.

On Monday evening Esther McVey, the Tory employment minister widely tipped to be promoted in the next reshuffle, became the first minister to openly criticise Miller. She told ITV's The Agenda programme that Cameron had "the final say" on what happened but indicated she was not overly impressed with her government colleague. "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," McVey said.

One Tory MP told The Huffington Post UK: "Any expenses scandal is a plague on all our houses. Backbenchers of all parties. It fills us full of dread, because it just drops the whole standing of parliament another notch with our electorate. It doesn't look good. There is no mention of 649 MPs whose expenses weren't under scrutiny in the last week. We are all tarred with the same brush."

As the knives come out for Miller within the Conservative Party, it has been suggested that she has only survived so long because Cameron is loathe to fire one of his few female cabinet ministers. A Conservative backbencher told HuffPost UK: "I do wonder if her name was Mark Miller something different might happen. Colleagues think he would have been gone a week ago."

Backbencher Jackie Doyle-Price, who is clinging on to the most marginal Tory seat in the country, suggested Miller risked the voter backlash costing the party dear in both May's European elections and the 2015 general election. She told BBC Newsnight on Monday evening: "If I were in that position, facing a difficult set of local elections, I wouldn't be expecting my colleagues to defend me."

And Nicola Blackwood, the MP for marginal seat of Oxford West and Abingdon, said it was "very unhelpful" for the issue to have dragged on for as long as it already had. "If I was faced with the kind of questions she is faced with I would be really quite worried indeed,” she told the BBC.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, while not overtly criticising Miller, were not overly generous in their comments of support when asked on Monday. Grieve told the BBC the culture secretary would have to "answer to her constituents". And Duncan Smith told ITV it was a "complex" issue.

The Daily Telegraph reports today that Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful backbench Tory 1922 committee, met Cameron yesterday to warn him that a sizeable number of Conservative MPs wanted Miller to be fired.

There is considerable worry inside the Conservative Party that a prolonged battle with the press over expenses would be toxic with just a year to go until the general election. However suspicions have also been voiced that some backbenchers are seizing on the opportunity to get revenge on Miller for her part in piloting through the controversial gay marriage legislation.

Nadine Dorries, who is no fan of the prime minister, used Twitter to defend the apology Miller gave in the Commons. "MPs don't get to make their apology, it is the Speaker who decides what words are said and how, not MP Speaker has final word. So any MPs criticising the apology of Maria Miller are being a teeny bit stupid - Mr Speaker doesn't like and won't approve long apologies," she said.

SEE ALSO: 18 Tweets That Show Miller Row Have Ruined Cameron's Week