It would have been survivable if Miller had handled it better. By today, she was on the front of only one newspaper, The Guardian, but it was too late. The story had been running for six days and David Cameron faces Prime Minister’s Questions at midday.
It was her apology last Thursday that did for her. She was required to apologise for obstructing the independent commissioner’s inquiries. Both the obstruction and the tone of the apology conveyed her absolute conviction that she had done nothing wrong, which was not an attitude calculated to endear herself to the public or to fellow MPs who might defend her.
Her reluctance to accept culpability meant that she also refused to try to make her own case. Thus, to the end, it was widely reported and believed that the Standards Committee, on which the Conservatives have a majority, generously decided to reduce the amount she was required to repay from £45,000 to £5,800. This is not the case. Late in the day she provided new documents that showed her mortgage payments were higher than had been estimated, and therefore the amount she had overclaimed by mistake was lower. This was accepted by the independent commissioner.
However, it is true that the committee of MPs decided her punishment - to repay the overpayment and to apologise for attitude to the investigation. She got off lightly, continued to behave gracelessly and now has had to pay a far heavier price.
I do not know what tipped the balance in the end, although I suspect that the Prime Minister’s loyalty had expired, and that this was communicated tactfully to her. Labour has already put out a statement this morning saying that her eventual resignation proves that the Prime Minister’s judgement is useless (I paraphrase). Once you are on to the leader of the other side showing bad judgement, you know the argument is over. Actually, the Prime Minister decided that she could have survived and showed commendable loyalty until it had dawned on her that she could not.
She may well have been influenced by the vox pops carried out in her Basingstoke constituency by a BBC reporter yesterday. The reporter had followed John Mann, the opportunist Labour MP, who held a public meeting with the local Labour Party there, to exploit her embarrassment. By opportunist, obviously, I mean “good at politics”. What was striking was that the reporter could not find a single Basingstoke voter to support Miller, apart from the chairman of her Tory association. Those who had voted Tory in the past said that they would now vote Ukip.
That is one reason for thinking that Miller is unlikely to be the Tory candidate in the general election. Her ministerial career is over, despite the Prime Minister’s form of words in his letter accepting her resignation, and if she tries to fight the seat she might lose it. She has misjudged the public mood on MPs’ expenses all along. It is utterly unreasoning and unforgiving. She knows that now.