Just one of the reasons the public doesn’t trust politicians

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

You’ll often hear politicians talk of how frustrated they are about voter apathy and how they must work harder to engage with the electorate.

Well if any MP, MEP or even local councillor wants to know why so many people feel disillusioned about politics in this country then they simply have to look at the Maria Miller saga.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that if such scandals never arose then the number of people going to the polls would rise exponentially.

There will, sadly, always be those who don’t vote.

We can make all the excuses in the world for them but the truth is most can’t be bothered to exercise their democratic right and the fact that our forefathers died to preserve such freedoms is entirely lost on them. They simply don’t care.

There are also, I believe, a growing number of people who can see very little daylight between the main political parties anymore and they simply distrust politicians.

It doesn’t help that when you ask a question of a Member of Parliament, for example, you never get a straight answer.

I’ve interviewed numerous MPs over the years and they have a way of talking which avoids them ever saying anything which could be held against them further down the line.

Indeed they will very often answer the question with another question or say (and this is my personal favourite): “Well, of course, what’s important here is (insert soundbite).”

No, what’s important is that I’ve noticed you have avoided answering the question, my right honourable friend.

The irony is that I think most people would be far more forgiving of someone who occasionally admitted they had made a mistake than someone who wriggles and squirms but always manages to justify their stance or actions.

I’ve heard and read that Maria Miller has been a terrific constituency MP. That may be true but I’m afraid her reputation will be forever tarnished by the expenses scandal which led to her stepping down from the post of Culture Secretary on Wednesday.

In her resignation letter she told the Prime Minister she was grateful for his ‘personal support’ but felt the ‘present situation’ had become a ‘distraction from the vital work of the Government’.

In the grand scheme of things one could ask why the media is devoting so much time and energy to this story. Is it a witch-hunt because Miller was overseeing the implementation of Press regulation on the back of the Leveson Inquiry?

And anyway, haven’t we got more important things to worry about – like the state of the economy, immigration or HS2?

The truth is, however, that the public remembers the MPs’ expenses scandal – exposed by the excellent work of the Daily Telegraph – all too well and the Miller affair has given us all flashbacks to nannies and duck ponds.

The unedifying spectacle of both sides of the House of Commons slipping and sliding in the mud as they attempt to gain the moral high ground hasn’t helped.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour covered themselves in glory in 2009 and the rank hypocrisy of millionaire opposition front-benchers, themselves far from whiter than white, feigning outrage on behalf of the public is there for all to see.

Last week Parliament’s Independent Standards Commissioner said that Maria Miller had broken Commons rules and should repay £45,000 in expenses she had claimed on a London house which she later sold for a £1.2 million profit.

Then, of course, a committee of MPs laughably reduced the repayment to £5,800 and we all heard Miller’s 32-second excuse for an apology.

Even on Wednesday, having resigned, Miller seemed utterly incapable of admitting she’d done wrong – which she had.

The best we got was that she ‘took full responsibility for the (Standards Commissioner’s) findings’.

Talk about dancing on the head of a pin. Just pay back the £45,000, duck. I dare say you won’t miss it.

Thankfully the former Culture Secretary has decided not to accept the ludicrous £17,000 golden handshake – er, I mean severance pay for Ministers – and instead chose to donate it to charity. You see it’s not just in the banking industry that failure, poor performance, dubious behaviour or resignations are rewarded.

In the same way that an unelected, highly-paid tier of council officers and NHS staff seem bullet-proof, many of our politicians are similarly shielded from the realities of life.

I would suggest it’s high time that we did away with the MPs’ expenses system altogether.

They do an important job which necessitates them living in London much of the time so let’s pay them a salary which covers their housing and travel costs and be done with it. That way there can be no temptation to abuse the system.

At the same time we shouldn’t ever have a situation again where MPs self-regulate in terms of standards or finances.

It simply doesn’t work because those inside the Westminster bubble haven’t a clue just how appalled the vast majority of us are at the way many politicians have behaved in recent years.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel