The work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith has thrown his support behind embattled Culture Secretary Maria Miller, making the claim that she is facing a Tory backlash for having been the minister responsible for the same-sex marriage Bill.
His comments came as a poll found a large majority of voters think Mrs Miller should lose her place in the Cabinet, be stripped of her press regulation responsibilities and thrown out of the House of Commons altogether, following the scandal over her expenses.
Ben Harris-Quinney, director of the Conservative Grassroots group of activists and former Conservative Chairman Lord Tebbit have both called for Culture Secretary to go.
Speaking on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show Mr Duncan Smith said: “I think she has done a very good job in a very difficult set of circumstances, with the Leveson Inquiry, which has stirred up a lot of media antipathy to her.
"And also the gay marriage stuff - there's a lot of Conservatives out there who perhaps weren't necessarily supportive, also feel rather bitter about that. In a sense, she is also receiving some of that (backlash) as part of this process.”
He added that he believes there is a risk of the episode developing into a “witch hunt of somebody”.
Asked if Mrs Miller is doing the Government “any good” by staying in office, he said that the matter is something that “the Prime Minister has to take consideration of and she herself”.
He did however add that he does not believe she should rethink her position.
The Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday found that 78% of respondents said Mrs Miller should forfeit her Cabinet post as Culture Secretary, 66% said she should lose powers over press regulation and 68% said she should be “sacked” as an MP. 73% of voters thought the 32-second long admission to the House of Commons was inadequate.
Results of the poll will also trigger further questions over the Prime Minister’s handling of the revelations - three quarters of those polled said he was wrong to continue his support for the Culture Secretary. Mr Cameron has twice publicly backed Mrs Miller, calling for a line to be drawn under the matter following her apology.
Parliament's standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson had - following an inquiry which Mrs Miller had been seen to be obstructive too - recommended that the Culture Secretary repay £45,000 in expenses for a house which she shared with her parents.
The Commons Standards Committee however overruled the recommendation, instead deciding she needed to hand back only £5,800 and say sorry for failing to co-operate fully with the investigation - resulting in the short apology.
Letters released following Mrs Miller's apology revealed the Culture Secretary told Ms Hudson that it would be “irrational, perverse and unreasonable” to uphold the complaint against her and warned that she could go over her head to ask the MPs on the Standards Committee to intervene.
John Mann, the Labour MP whose complaint sparked the Commissioner's investigation, said: “These emails show that Maria Miller bullied and threatened the independent commissioner.”
Reacting to the MPs overruling, the watchdog in charge of MPs expenses said it was time for the House of Commons to give up the power to police itself over standards and ethics, warning that “MPs marking their own homework always ends in scandal.”
Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority told the Sunday Times: “MPs marking their own homework always ends in scandal. It happened with expenses. It will happen with standards investigations too. Ipsa has shown that independent regulation of parliamentary behaviour can work. Our reforms have cleaned up the system.”
Tory chairman Grant Shapps said he believed Mrs Miller’s letters were simply a result of her being had just been “frustrated” at the long-drawn out inquiry.
:: Survation interviewed 1,001 voters on April 4.
Sweeping changes to the system of MPs’ expenses, introduced after the 2009 scandal, took effect after the 2010 general election. They were drawn up by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which took over the job of approving claims from the House of Commons after the affair.
MPs could no longer claim up to £24,000 a year towards buying, furnishing and renovating a second home. The 128 MPs with constituencies within 20 miles or 60 minutes travel time of Westminster could not claim for housing costs. Others could claim rent for the equivalent of a one-bedroom flat (up to £20,600 a year in London and between £10,400 to £15,650 a year in their constituencies) or be reimbursed for hotel bills. Claims for gardening and cleaning were no longer permitted.
The new regime ended a £25-a-night "subsistence allowance" MPs could claim without receipts. Instead they were allowed up to £15 for an evening meal when the Commons sat after 7.30pm, but had to produce a receipt.
Additional reporting from PA