The controversy surrounding Maria Miller's expenses isn’t just a battle between politics and the press. Clearly, the Culture Secretary's involvement with the Leveson Inquiry and her steps to introduce press regulation under the Royal Charter have been contributing factors to her public meltdown. Though, when it emerged that Miller's former special advisor rang a reporter in order to "flag up" the fact that she was in talks over Leveson proposals, essentially to warn the paper off covering the expenses story, what could she expect? Threatening a national title with such talk is utterly pointless - newspaper editors are a force to be reckoned with. Of course The Daily Telegraph were going to publish the story anyway. However, the wider implication of Miller's expenses claim is ultimately one of trust. Years on from the original expenses scandal, yet again the public have further evidence to question their confidence in those in power.
Whether Maria Miller is able to survive and keep her job as Culture Secretary is almost irrelevant in terms of the damage the expenses story has done to public opinion. Simply removing her from Cabinet is not enough to resolve the issue. Indeed, a number of MPs are now calling for the Standards Committee to be completely reformed given that the electorate finds it difficult to accept that MPs currently have the power to, in effect, make up their own rules. If such reform does take place it would be a step in right direction, though it will take more to regain public confidence in the parliamentary system.
Another example of faltering trust between the public and the government could be seen in the EU debates between Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Deputy PM, Nick Clegg. The polls showed that Farage won the first two debates hands down, with 69% voting him as the victor of round two. Quite a remarkable outcome given that Farage currently has no MPs in Parliament and zero influence in the Commons, so how did he win? Again, it comes down to trust. Clegg's plan of action during the debates was to present Farage as a liar who is selling a "dangerous con" to the British people with his mission to release us from the EU. However, Clegg's overriding problem is that he is covered in the scars of government, not least because of his U-turn on the Lib Dem policy towards tuition fees. In contrast, Farage took to the stage claiming that he wasn't a "career politician" unlike Clegg and the rest in Westminster; he is actually a businessman, just like one of us at home. The irony is that, if he’s honest, he is a career politician, with ideas to get UKIP off the ground and into the Commons. But the public hasn’t yet suffered any of his failed promises and so they buy his rhetoric. Whether UKIP’s policies are right or wrong, credible or populist, Farage played brilliant politics in the debate last week and it appeared to work.
In the lead up to 2015, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all have one key issue to address - that of trust. Until the public can regain confidence in the parliamentary system as well as their respect for MPs, the electorate will find it hard to determine which way to vote, if indeed they vote at all. Regaining the trust of the British people will take more than simply reshuffling a Cabinet member; the issue is far greater than that. It is a factor that could determine the outcome of our next government and the future of our democracy.
By Emily Stacey