British PM faces questions after minister resigns

British PM faces questions after minister resigns
Culture minister Maria Miller, a member of David Cameron's Conservative party.

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron was facing questions over his judgment and leadership on Thursday after one of his cabinet ministers resigned in an expenses row, despite his best efforts to keep her.

Culture minister Maria Miller, a member of Cameron's Conservative party, resigned on Wednesday after coming under intense pressure for overclaiming parliamentary allowances for a mortgage on her London home.

The prime minister had offered Miller his strong support as she was condemned by newspapers and the opposition Labour party over the course of almost a week.

But the row threatened to re-open the hugely damaging issue of expenses, which caused a major scandal in 2009, and several of Miller's Tory colleagues had openly called on her to step down.

After she resigned, Cameron insisted he was right to defend her while acknowledging the "raw" public anger that remained about the expenses issue, which led to seven lawmakers being sent to jail for fraud.

At a meeting of senior Tory lawmakers on Wednesday evening, the mood was reportedly one of relief that the issue was resolved before the final stretch of campaigning begins for next month's European and local elections.

However, a new ComRes survey found 63 per cent thought Cameron had handled the issue badly, and many newspapers reported on how the row had damaged the prime minister's leadership.

"Cameron left fighting for authority," said the Financial Times online, while The Times reported that the premier had been forced to sacrifice Miller after protests by his close aide and finance minister, George Osborne.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of a "terrible error of judgment" in supporting Miller.

Cameron responded that while she had been censured by the Commons standards committee, it had cleared her of the more serious charge that she had funded a home for her parents at taxpayers' expense.

"I thought it was right, in those circumstances, to allow her to make her apology and continue with her job," he said.

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