"WANTED: new chief sleazebuster for Parliament. Candidates must be able to carry out duties with less pay, less time for investigations and lower status. Ability not to upset MPs essential."
When the advertisement for the post of Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards appeared in a national newspaper last month, these were not exactly the words used. But after Tuesday's explosive attack by Elizabeth Filkin on the "insuperable obstacles" that had been placed in her way by MPs and civil servants, they are perhaps more appropriate.
As the ferocity of her comments reverberated around Westminster, there was no question that the former Inland Revenue investigator had touched a raw nerve during her 33 investigations. After months of being undermined and whispered against, the watchdog had finally bitten back.
Some 40 people have applied to be the new commissioner, setting out in writing the qualities of integrity and scrutiny they believe it needs. The problem facing those seeking a replacement for Mrs Filkin from February is that it is difficult to see who would be prepared to take on the post.
Yesterday, Martin Bell, the "man in the white suit", slayer of Neil Hamilton and all round upholder of probity in public life, warned that no one with honour could take the job.
The former MP expressed the thoughts of many outside Parliament. "I don't see who is going to take this job," he said. "I was approached last week and said `You must be kidding', because the job has been devalued. I can't think of anyone with honour taking it on."
Yesterday, the extent of the task faced by any new commissioner was underlined by a torrent of off-the-record briefing against Mrs Filkin.
One unnamed MP, described as a source close to the House of Commons Commission, the body charged with hiring and firing the watchdog, was particularly vehement.
The source told The World at One on BBC Radio 4 that Mrs Filkin was "politically naive" and accused her of having "an inflated sense of her own importance".
"If she thinks there is a conspiracy against her, she must be off her head. She gets paid pounds 84,000 a year for a four-day week. MPs work hard seven days for pounds 47,000. What is she complaining about?"
In fact, Mrs Filkin received a salary of pounds 76,000, but the MP's anger was the latest example of the type of briefings that have dogged her tenure.
Mr Bell said that from the moment she was first appointed three years ago, Mrs Filkin was undermined by MPs' gossip. "I was aware of a whispering campaign which did indeed start within weeks of her taking office and it was done by friends of people in high places. …