The Prime Minister’s position on Maria Miller has shifted a little in the past few days – but only on the wider issue of self-regulation. At this afternoon’s lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said:
‘There are I’m sure a number of ways in which Parliament can consider this, I’m not going to try and pre-empt what they may be but as you’ve heard the PM himself say in the clip earlier, he is, he’s very open to considering changes that Parliament may consider.
‘He’s very much open to looking at particularly sort of how Parliament may want, what changes Parliament may want to make, how that may happen, I’m not going to try and pre-empt that.’
The spokesman said this was a matter for the House of Commons. But when it came to questions on whether this was bad for politics, or good for politics, or a shift from the PM’s pledge to make politics whiter than white, or a sign that the man who tasked his chief whip with a ‘smell test‘ for MPs’ expenses has since lost his sense of smell, the spokesman continually directed journalists to the comments that David Cameron made on Friday and earlier today. Cameron gave a televised interview as part of his visit to Asda this morning in which he said:
‘Maria Miller is in her job because she’s doing a good job as Culture Secretary. Obviously she went through this process and the committee found she had made a mistake in her mortgage claims so she repaid money, she made an apology and I think that’s the right thing to do.’
The spokesman also said that while Cameron and Miller had spoken before her apology in the Commons on Thursday, they have not, ‘to my recollection’, spoken since. He refused to say whether they had discussed the content of that apology, saying:
‘I do not propose to go into any of the private conversations that the Prime Minister has had.’
Arguably Miller’s non-apology apology was a catalyst for the kind of feeding frenzy taking place at present. So if the Prime Minister agreed the form of the apology with her, he has made a mistake. He is fortunate that few MPs want to stick their heads over the top on expenses. Most of them want this row to go away as it does such terrible harm to politics in general. But it is early days as to what the best way to make this go away is. Having clearly concluded that she did not deserve a public dressing down, the Prime Minister may feel that the best way to move it on is to get some reforms to the self-regulation system on the table.