The Mail on Sunday's campaign against politicians continues today in its attack on jobs minister Tony McNulty. Like Jacqui Smith, he has been pilloried for how he has allegedly used his second home allowance. Next week, doubtless someone else will be picked off by the paper. Neither McNulty nor Smith were breaking any rules - but they are victims of a ridiculous system of allowances which should be scrapped forthwith.
Instead, there should be a very simple flat rate payment to MPs who live outside London - McNulty suggests himself a 40 mile radius would make sense - for accommodation, utilities and transport which should be enough to run a decent flat and cover rail or air fares (perhaps banded for those living furthest away). It should be significantly less than what is currently paid, but sufficient, with no John Lewis lists.
But it should then be entirely up to MPs whether they use it to pay rent, stay in hotels, pay a mortgage or stop in a youth hostel. In other words, rather than encouraging creative interpretations of the rules, it would be seen as a part of their salaries. And how they spent it would be nobody's business but their own. For those living closer to London, there might be a free rail season ticket and the occasional overnight hotel room where business demanded it.
The whole thing would be a lot cheaper - a target of halving the total cost should be set - as the size of the allowance would be cut, and as there would be far fewer administrative overheads, with no need for ever-expanding audits. And we would not have the absurd weekly attempts to portray politicians who are decent, hard-working and honourable people - as both Tony and Jacqui are - as corrupt chancers. The only losers would be certain Sunday papers. But I think we could live with that.