MPs’ expenses – fraud or just fiddling?

You couldn’t make it up. But the fear is, some of them did, once all 1 million MPs’ receipts come under merciless scrutiny. The Torygraph splashes nine full pages of leaks of MPs’ expenses, starting with the Cabinet and with lots more to come. They were all braced for official release in July but the Telegraph has drawn a bead on them and denied them advance spin. This is not corruption on anything like a Haughey scale ( 45 million euros worth down the years) but it’s still worth a tidy max of 24k a year.To me it’s more like fiddling of a type familiar to – well – journalists. Just look at the series of “10 extraordinary claims” with mugshots – niggling but excruciating. We await full disclosure of the NI contingent, headed by the First Minister. The full facts had better match their voluntary disclosures- for their sakes. Discrepancies could have serious consequences. Fiddling or fraud? Mockery or outrage? It’s a matter of degree. After the inevitable first spate of cynicism and ranting, all of Westminster is on tenterhooks for the public verdict to settle.
Douglas Alexander claimed £5,183 for storm windows and £3,868 for storm doors
David Miliband claimed almost £200 for a pram but was turned down by the Commons authorities
Margaret Beckett’s £600 claim for hanging baskets and other items for her garden was turned down
Andy Burnham tried to claim back £19.99 for an Ikea bathrobe
Hazel Blears claimed for a stay in the luxury Zetter boutique hotel in Clerkenwell
Paul Murphy submitted a £3,500 plumbing bill because his water was too hot
John Prescott used his allowance to install mock Tudor beams on the front of his home

Gordon himself is shown up to be not quite the Presbutton meanie of legend but looks in the clear over the costs of his cleaner shared with his brother. The cleaner probably deserved every penny, if his London flat was anything like his old bachelor billet in Scotland. When it was broken into a policeman commiserated with Gordon for the dreadful mess he left behind. “What do you mean”, said Gordon, “nothing was touched.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London