Maria Miller is losing friends, fast. Furious briefing over the last 24 hours has seen a host of Tory MPs withdraw their support for the embattled Culture Secretary - and question the judgment of the Prime Minister.
One ‘senior minister, speaking on condition of anonymity’, twisted the knife in the Telegraph:
‘In my view she has clearly behaved in a way that is incompatible with what she should be doing as a Cabinet minister. The decision to keep her on undermines the Prime Minister because he has talked about a new kind of politics.’
That outburst was followed by another Tory MP, who told the Evening Standard:
‘It’s ghastly, it’s just making us look all the same. It is setting back the reputation of parliament and MPs.’ He said he had 'nothing positive' to say about Mrs Miller. Adding: 'There’s a very strong feeling that MPs should still have their own system of regulation. There is a view that David Cameron has been pretty tough in the past on transgressors and that if she was not a women he would be tough on her.'
Another Tory MP says that the episode is ‘playing to the Ukip agenda about the political class closing ranks, looking after its own.’ Meanwhile, Tory Nicola Blackwood told BBC Oxford: 'Clearly it's very unhelpful for this to drag on in the way that it is'.
One MP told Mr S over the weekend that he felt ‘fury’: and not just at Miller but the Prime Minister too:
'New MPs now being tainted by hangover from previous regime. She should have gone. None of us claimed for foliage clearance in Oxfordshire'.
Mr S has found just one MP who defends Miller, but only against the actions of the press, and, even then, the comment was made on condition of anonymity:
'The Tea Room was mostly full of support because there is a view that the PM should choose Cabinet not some elements of the press who want to continue to regulate themselves.'
There is no love between the Telegraph and MPs over expenses and press regulation, but their sideshow shouldn’t distract from the central drama of the vanishing support for Miller – and its possible consequences. Andrew Mitchell will testify to the fact it is easier for the press to get their scalp when the target is forsaken by his or her colleagues.