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Cameron Facing Pressure Over Maria Miller Expenses Apology

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is facing continued pressure over Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who was forced to apologize to Parliament last week for over-claiming her expenses.

The opposition Labour Party has complained to Parliament’s Standards Committee, criticizing her approach to the probe into her expenses and saying that her apology does not go far enough.

“Rather than meaningfully address the arrogant and evasive attitude that characterized her behavior during the inquiry, she chose to reinforce it in the House of Commons, revealing Mrs. Miller to not be apologetic at all,” Labour lawmaker Sheila Gilmore wrote to Kevin Barron, who chairs Parliament’s Standards Committee, in a letter released by the party today. “I want to ask whether you consider Mrs. Miller’s apology sufficient.”

Miller gave a 31-second apology in the House of Commons on April 3 after the committee found she failed to cooperate with the inquiry and ordered her to repay 5,800 pounds ($9,620) in expenses that she inadvertently overclaimed because of a rapid reduction in interest rates between 2008 and 2009. Cameron later said that matter was closed.

Since then, newspapers have accused Miller and government aides of trying to bully both a Parliamentary investigator and journalists who were looking at her expenses. A Survation poll in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday newspaper found 82 percent of Tory voters said she should resign.

Cameron continued to back Miller today, telling reporters during a supermarket visit in London that she was doing a good job. “We ought to remember she was found innocent of the claim that was leveled at her at the start of this process,” he said. “I think that is important to bear in mind.”

‘Questionable Judgment’

The Telegraph newspaper said today that Miller had re-designated the house she shared with her parents in Wimbledon, south London, as her main home, meaning it wasn’t liable for capital-gains tax when it was sold earlier this year. The tax is levied at 28 percent on profits made on the sale of second homes. The paper quoted Miller saying she would follow the tax rules.

“Once you have made a decision to stand by someone it becomes difficult to unwind that, and to do so also makes you look like you have questionable judgment and are weak,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said in an interview today. “He also clearly won’t want to lose another woman from a cabinet that only has four women.”

Former Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit, who now sits in Parliament’s upper House of Lords, called for Miller to go. He wrote on the Daily Telegraph website that her “arrogant” handling of the scandal had revived voter anger over lawmakers’ expenses, adding, “the best way out of this is for Mrs. Miller to resign.”

‘Witch Hunt’

Miller’s cabinet colleague, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, warned yesterday of a “witch hunt.” Speaking to the BBC’s “Andrew Marr” program, he said there was a “lot of antipathy” toward Miller in the media because of her role in drawing up tougher regulation of the press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. Many Tories were also angry with her after she oversaw the introduction of gay marriage, he added.

According to Bale, Miller is at risk if Cameron overhauls his ministerial team following local authority and European Union elections on May 22 as he prepares for the 2015 general election. “That’s unless there’s a fresh angle on Miller in the next couple of days” before Parliament breaks for its Easter vacation on April 10, Bale said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net; Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Andrew Atkinson

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