The insider - Paul Routledge reports a threat to MPs' expenses

A threat to MPs' expenses, MacShane on the run, and the worried nudists who seek help

A shudder of apprehension ran through MPs at the latest meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Before them was a report about "open government" in relation to their allowances and expenses. These can triple an MP's £55,000 salary, but they are usually arranged privately with the Fees Office on a gentlemanly basis: no bills or receipts required, no questions (or not very many) asked. The idea that they will have to open their account books for public inspection horrifies MPs. The Speaker, Michael J Martin, has set up an advisory panel on members' allowances, ruffling a few parliamentary feathers in the process. It is not just the wrath of the punters that dismays the tribunes of the people. They fear the prying eyes of the Inland Revenue. Essentially, MPs are self-employed business, and their bookkeeping is not always up to . . . well, Enron standards.

The Labour Party is getting so many e-mails protesting about the war in Iraq that its systems people are now classifying them as spam mail. Those who know about these things say this is like dismissing them as junk mail. So much for the party of conscience. Meanwhile, on 10 April the Government News Network sent out a schedule offering releases from "the Department of Press Briefing" and "the Department of Photo Opportunity". "Health" was supposed to be somewhere in those sentences - I think.

To Politico's for the launch of Nick Comfort's How to Handle the Media. Comfort, a former special adviser to the Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, is the son of the sex sage Dr Alex Comfort. Now we look forward to Alastair Campbell's sequel - How to Manhandle the Media.

Speaking of Big A, who is a noted athlete, Denis MacShane, the minister for Europe, wrote to all members of the parliamentary lobby asking them to sponsor him in the London Marathon. "Actually, marathons are useful preparation for FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] work, especially if you are minister for Europe," he warbled. "It requires patience, determination, early starts in the morning, confidence that people will support you, and the certain knowledge that however far you think you have gone there is always further to go!" Pass the sick bag, Brother Straw.

Back-garden naturists have appealed to Stephen Pound MP to stand up for their rights and against the Sex Offences Bill. They fear persecution for baring their all behind their hedges. Pound, who is not known for nudism, has reassured them, with more than a hint of double entendre, that "their bushes are safe". Perhaps this is a case for the shadow defence secretary, Bernard Jenkin (Whingeing Nudist South). British Naturism has offered Pound a visit to a naturist club "for research purposes". Surely, this would be just the kind of voyeurism from which the everything-off brigade seeks protection.

So goodbye, John Lloyd, the tedious Blairophile who announced last week that he will no longer write for the NS, which he accuses of being an "upmarket Daily Mirror". Excuse me, isn't this the same ex-International Marxist who once seriously considered becoming industrial editor of Robert Maxwell's Mirror?

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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