Perfunctory hardly does it justice. Maria Miller’s Commons apology for her failure to co-operate with inquiries into a controversial expenses claim not only lasted but a shade more than 30 seconds but, in tone and delivery, it exhibited a marked absence of contrition.
The Culture Secretary owes much to the Prime Minister’s “strong support”, as Downing Street termed it. True, she was cleared of the most egregious accusation, namely that she wrongly claimed back tens of thousands of pounds of mortgage payments on a designated “second home” in London while allowing her parents to live there. After much scrutiny, the committee ruled that both Ms Miller’s choice of the London property as the second home and her housing of her parents were justifiable. It also found, however, that her claims had not been lowered to reflect falling interest rates, producing a £5,800 overpayment which she has been required to reimburse.
Arguably, over-claiming, even accidentally, is enough to raise questions about the future of a cabinet minister. In the aftermath of the expenses scandal, it does not seem too much to expect senior politicians to take extra care.
Investigations were fraught with “delay and difficulty”, the committee said, for which Ms Miller bears “significant responsibility”. Bad enough to make a mistake in so sensitive an area as financial probity; to drag one’s heels in clearing the matter up is unforgivable.
But there is another twist to the tale – and that is Ms Miller’s special adviser’s alleged warning to journalists asking questions about expenses that her boss was closely involved in discussing the future of press regulation following the Leveson Inquiry. If evidence were wanted of the potential conflicts of interest arising from politicians’ overseeing the media, perhaps this is it.
Taken altogether, then, the Culture Secretary and her staff have brought the Government into disrepute. Given what David Cameron said about public integrity after the expenses scandal, this smells of double standards.