British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a blow to his authority yesterday when a scandal-hit minister he had been defending resigned, exposing him to charges of weak leadership and poor judgment.
Maria Miller, Britain's minister for culture, stepped down after a backlash against her expenses claims disrupted efforts by Cameron and his ruling Conservative Party to woo voters ahead of European Parliament elections next month.
"Entire Maria Miller affair shambolic for Tories and shames British politics," Michael Heaver, a spokesman for the anti-establishment UK Independence party, wrote on Twitter. "Cameron and top table Tories dangerously out of touch."
The opposition Labour Party strongly criticised Cameron during fiery exchanges in parliament over his refusal to sack Miller.
How, it asked, could he have justified leaving her in place when a report had ordered her to pay back wrongly claimed money and found she had tried to hinder an inquiry into the matter.
"He still doesn't understand what she [Miller] did wrong," Ed Miliband, Labour's leader, said of Cameron.
"The reason the public were so appalled was if it had happened in any other business there would have been no question about them staying in their job. Why was he the last person in the country to realise her position was untenable?"
Cameron, who continued to say that Miller was doing an excellent job right up until her abrupt resignation, defended his handling of the scandal.
"I thought it was right in those circumstances to allow her to make her apology and continue with her job. That is the way I think is the right way to handle it," he said.
Miller was replaced by Sajid Javid, considered a rising star of the Conservative Party.
Miller oversaw the ongoing negotiations on creating a new system of regulation for Britain's newspapers, which resulted from an inquiry into press standards.
Asked if she believed she had been the victim of a media witch hunt due to her role in implementing the recommendations of the press standards inquiry, Miller said in a television interview: "I fully accept the findings of the parliamentary report. This is about that."