Even those politicians giving Maria Miller their public support know that the controversy engulfing her has reopened the wound of the 2009 scandal over MPs’ expenses.
Trust is hard to win and easy to lose. Yet there were tentative signs that the public’s view of politicians was improving a little from the nadir of the expenses affair. Polling for the Committee on Standards in Public Life has shown a slight improvement in the reputation of MPs, although it is still lower than it was before 2009; the anti-sleaze watchdog believes the recent trend shows it is possible to rebuild confidence – if MPs stop behaving badly.
However, the recovery process is bound to be set back by the crop of damaging headlines about the Culture Secretary. Few voters will care that the controversy could not happen under the current expenses system because MPs can no longer claim for their second homes, the subject of the original complaint against Ms Miller. She has prolonged this saga by making a totally inadequate, perfunctory “apology” to the Commons. If she had shown contrition, she would be in a stronger position now.
Some colleagues believe Ms Miller is a target for Conservative-supporting newspapers because of her departmental role in press regulation following the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking. That is a bit rich: privately, some senior MPs admit they were keen on statutory controls of the press as revenge for the way the papers covered the parliamentary expenses scandal. Now the wheel has turned full circle: the Cabinet minister in charge of implementing Leveson is in trouble over her expenses.
A further loss of trust in politicians would be bad news for the three main parties, as local and European Parliament elections loom next month. And the main beneficiary will be the anti-politics candidate – Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party.
You just can’t keep him out of it.