Now who looks more prime ministerial?

What a clever move by Cameron to steal a march on Brown and bring in his own expenses reform. Your move, Gordon. The Prime Minister has the bigger problem. If the Chancellor, flipping Alistair Darling was ordered to pay back his second home allowance claims, it would be a serious blow to his prestige and authority.

Initially, Mr Darling claimed that 11 Downing Street – the Chancellor’s residence – was his “second home”. Under parliamentary rules, this meant that the only expenses he could claim were for groceries. He claimed £300 a month for food. Within a few months, he changed his “second home” again – this time, back to his Edinburgh home. He has since claimed about £1,200 a month in council tax and mortgage. Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, told the Government in January, 2007, that it was unacceptable for ministers with grace-and-favour properties to continue claiming the second home allowance.

And what about Squirrel Nutkin?

Parliament by itself is too weak an institution to impose a solution – real power lies in government or party – and Cameron has used his available muscle, unlike Brown, who fumbled his chance by trying to pose as the Big Guy laying down the law for them all. Cameron’s slick move left Brown looking flat-footed and slow – as Harriet Harman was overshadowed, taking the clumsy bureaucratic route.

Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, said she was launching her own initiative to deal with excessive expenses claims. She said she had written to the cross-party Commons members’ allowances committee to ask it to consider whether any money had been paid out wrongly and to arrange for the setting up of a repayment system.

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