My shirt's hairier than yours
With her typical style and willingness to fly in the face of received wisdom, Ann Widdecombe warned this morning of the dangers of a "my shirt is hairier than yours" competition between political leaders who want to prove that they're more sorry and more willing to force their colleagues to pay back money than their rivals.
Her interview on the Today programme and those with two MPs' wives are well worth a listen. They capture well the sense of frustration that many who work in the Commons feel about the firestorm they're living through.
It is that competition that lies behind a dispute about whether the prime minister has oversold the decision of a cross-party Commons committee to set up an independent investigation into all MPs' claims for the past four years.
He spoke as if a deal had been done. I understand that it has been in principle but the practicalities have not been agreed.
Commons officials are still examining whether it will be possible to retrospectively identify claims which "did not conform to both the rules and the purpose for which the allowance existed, and which ought to be repaid". They will report back to another meeting tonight. It may prove easier said than done.
In any event, much has now been agreed between the party leaders on which they could not previously agree.
• The allowance for second homes will now be limited to bills - ie rent, mortgage, council tax and utilities. They will be barred from claiming for furniture, white goods and fixtures and fittings
• Home "flipping" will be stopped - MPs will have to say which is their second home at the beginning of each Parliament and stick to it unless their personal circumstances change significantly
• MPs selling homes won't be able to avoid capital gains tax by telling the taxman one thing and the Commons another about which is their second home
What remains at issue is that Labour wants a cap on the amount that can be spent on mortgage interest payments and the Lib Dems are arguing that MPs should repay any gain they make by selling a house which the taxpayer bought and did up.
There is no agreement on these yet.