The Maria Miller scandal shows a frightening chasm between politicians and the public mood

Miller and the Tory leadership seemed baffled as to why her actions were deemed quite so repugnant, writes Jessie Thompson

April 10, 2014
3 min read

Politicians being out of touch can sometimes be vaguely amusing. The recent grasping attempt to reward ‘hard-working people’ by making beer and bingo approximately £1 cheaper a year will be keeping Private Eye in material for months to come.

But waiting for Maria Miller to resign was more excruciating than an episode of The Thick of It – and far less funny. The entire debacle demonstrated a frightening chasm in the ability of politicians to understand how the public feels about their behaviour. The disconnect between the public mood and the government’s understanding of it is no longer just embarrassing – it’s completely insulting.

One can’t help but feel that it was breathtakingly stupid of Miller to exploit the system, since the 2009 expenses scandal had already demonstrated just how disgraceful the electorate finds such behaviour. But, nevertheless, she did, and seemed baffled as to why her actions were deemed quite so repugnant.

Indeed, the most ridiculous aspect of the whole affair must be the self-righteous outrage with which Miller and David Cameron responded to the public uproar. The media were accused of creating a ‘witch-hunt’, yet it seemed that, for once, they were doing their job: holding a corrupt politician to account. However, Miller insisted she was ‘devastated’ and was described as a ‘victim’.

In fact, the very definition of words became fluid: Miller kept insisting she had apologised ‘unreservedly’, but she still appeared to have plenty of reservations, including paying back the full sum she had claimed, and resigning immediately so as to not show total disdain for the public.

And perhaps most importantly, she was said to have ‘resigned’, but, in truth, she’ll keep her £66,000 MP’s salary, retreat to the backbenches for a while – and probably be reinstated to the cabinet at a later date, since women MPs are such slim pickings in the Conservative party. Scandalously, she was even offered £17,000 in severance pay, until public pressure saw her donate the sum to charity.

Miller and Cameron’s handling of the incident has been breathtakingly misguided. Such a blasé attitude to the public’s opinion can mean one of only two things: a total ignorance of the public mood, or total contempt for the people the government claims to represent. Whichever it is, at least we can draw one conclusion: neither of them are very good at their jobs.