MPs have been queuing up to apologise in recent months.

There have been a few exceptions, but most of our politicians have insisted they understand why the public is angry about the way expenses were used and abused, and that they understand the need for change.

Senior Conservative Alan Duncan was one of those offering a public mea culpa.

But it seems his private views are more complex. In unguarded comments to a journalist, he complained that MPs were forced to live on “rations”, and claimed nobody with real talent would want to enter Parliament after recent events.

He has since, predictably, apologised, and insisted his remarks were meant in jest. But it seems clear that, even if he was being light-hearted or exaggerating for comic effect, they were not entirely in jest. He really does feel that MPs have been badly treated.

Sir Patrick Cormack, the Staffordshire MP, seems to have some sympathy for this view, even though he described Mr Duncan’s comments as unwise.

Being an MP is an expensive task, says Sir Patrick, although he conceded that they were well paid. And he also expressed concern that potential politicians would pursue alternative careers.

One can have some sympathy with the idea that MPs have suffered a collective humiliation – which not all of them deserved.

And it is true that the job is harder than people sometimes imagine, while the rewards may not be as great.

For a long time, MPs struggled to explain that their so-called expenses included basic things like the office phone bill – something most people who work in an office take for granted. The cash wasn’t going into their pockets.

Unfortunately, however, we now know that in a few rare cases it pretty much was, as MPs claimed for mortgages that didn’t exist.

In many more cases, MPs appeared deliberately to claim as much as they could, or to claim for items the taxpayer simply shouldn’t have to pay for. And it wasn’t just a small minority or a few bad apples. The practice was not universal, but it was widespread.

Sir Patrick is right that we need as a nation to treat MPs with respect if we want good people to do the job. And he is right that they should receive a wage proportionate to the importance of their work.

But it will take a long time for the public to forgive our politicians – with good reason. For the time being, they need to stifle their complaints and take it on the chin.