Milk with your iPod?
The fact that MPs can claim expenses of £250 without a receipt has already been greeted with widespread incredulity. The fact we learnt today is likely to be greeted with even more. MPs can, apparently, also claim £400 a month for food without receipts.
This emerged at an Information tribunal where the man in charge of vetting expenses in the Commons was fighting to stop freedom of information campaigners revealing any more about them. How, the House of Commons director of resources was asked, could he know if an MP was using the money to pay for meat and two veg or an iPod? The answer was - he couldn't.
Andrew Walker's argument against publishing a breakdown of MPs' expenses was that this would offer voters a "peephole" into their private lives and would put people off doing the job at all. Bear in mind that what he was trying to block on behalf of the Commons was not the publication of individual receipts (eg chez longue £980) but for broad headings such as utility bills, furniture etc.
I, for one, do not want to spend my journalistic career worrying if an MP prefers Kellogs to 'own brand' corn flakes but I am amazed that many MPs don't appear to realise that the demand for more and more information stems from a view that their system of expenses is so obviously open to abuse.
There is a vicious circle at work here. The more voters learn about MPs' allowances and expenses, the more unhappy they become and the more many MPs want to stop them learning about their expenses.
Only the House of Commons can break that circle - by reforming themselves.