Maria Miller

The Week in Politics: A plague on all their Houses

The Week in Politics: A plague on all their Houses

You wouldn't think it possible – but this week the British body politic managed to make itself more unpopular than ever before.

So much for the career of Maria Miller, the culture, media and secretary who is now – ahem – no longer the culture, media and sport secretary. Succumbing to intense pressure from the media is all very well, but ruining the reputation of politics in the process seems to be taking things a bit far.

Instead of meekly saying sorry last week, her non-apology merely earned her more enemies. Instead of defending her record, her team complained she was the victim of a media witch-hunt. It didn't have to be this way. She could have been much more open about the error of her ways. Instead she made mistakes from start to finish.

George Osborne's camp may have intervened to push her out before PMQs on Wednesday, but the damage had already been done. This week was a disaster for David Cameron. The prime minister didn't have the guts to sack Miller and it reflects very badly against him.

His staunch defence of her, education secretary Michael Gove explained on Wednesday morning, is because Cameron is full of 'basic human decency'. That's one way of putting it. To many of the PM's critics, it looks like weakness.

He has even left open the possibility of her returning to government at some stage. Doesn't he get that he's picked the wrong side in this fight?

It's not just the PM who's tainted, though. All of British politics is, because MPs once again demonstrated the enormous gap between what exists in their heads as normal and acceptable and the disdain for them felt by the great British public.

Voters shouldn't always write off our politicians – but in this ugly story, they're completely justified in doing so.

As we saw this week, most MPs in the Commons are continuing to reject the need for any kind of reform of the way misbehaving parliamentarians are punished.

Some blamed journalists, some suggested the public don't care. Very few actually realised voters can't believe the people who sit in judgement on MPs are actually a committee of MPs. They're marking their own homework. And it stinks.

The system shouldn't be allowed to continue as it is. After the expenses scandal, the political parties supported the idea that badly-behaving politicians should face a 'recall' by-election if their constituents didn't like it.

The coalition's toothless proposals would have handed this sanction to the same MPs' committee we've got right now, rather than voters. Now that's not what I call democracy.

We need to introduce a system of direct recall in which voters can trigger a by-election and fire MPs themselves. Until that's set up, the public are never going to be truly convinced they're the ones ultimately in charge.