David Cameron has admitted he under-estimated the depth of the “raw” public anger over MPs’ expenses as he finally conceded defeat in his battle to save his beleaguered Culture Secretary, Maria Miller.
The prime minister said the furious public reaction to the disclosure that she had wrongly claimed thousands of pounds in mortgage interest payments showed further reform of the expenses system was essential.
However he was accused by Labour leader Ed Miliband of a “terrible error of judgment” in failing to sack her immediately after the publication of last week’s Commons Standards Committee report. Mr Cameron moved swiftly to replace her after her resignation yesterday, promoting Treasury Minister Sajid Javid to take her place.
In a rowdy Commons question time, Mr Cameron insisted he had been right to stand by Mrs Miller after she was cleared of the central charge against her.
“If people clear themselves of a serious offence, you let them get on with their job, you let them try to do their job,” he said.
“Firing someone at the first sign of trouble . . . that is not actually leadership, that is weakness.”
He sought to deflect accusations by Mr Miliband that he had acted as “an apologist for unacceptable behaviour”, offering cross-party talks on a further overhaul of the expenses system.
“There is still very deep public concern that is very raw about the expenses scandal,” he said.
“The biggest lesson I learned – that that anger is still very raw and it needs to be acted on.”
The confirmation that Mrs Miller had finally given up the fight to hang on to her job came shortly after 7am with the announcement from Downing Street that she had resigned.
It followed a late-night phone conversation between Mrs Miller and the prime minister.