Work for us and get a free massage

Wouldn't you prefer an on-site beauty therapist, a Rover or free fruit to a trip on Concorde? Giles

I haven't paid for a meal, taxi, book, theatre ticket, journey by train, boat or plane, pad of paper, pen, stamp, tank of petrol or holiday since 1995. I thus hesitate to pour scorn upon those honourable friends of ours who have been implicated in Perksgate.

What makes me sick, however, sick do you hear me, is to have the poverty of our leaders' imaginations laid bare before the eyes of the world. Jack Cunningham, for example, who claims to have a PhD, rewarded himself for 20 grim years slogging his way into the top ranks of a vain and gruelling profession with, according to press reports, "several nights in a plush hospitality complex owned by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd".

A plush hospitality complex. I think we have all stayed in one of those places with geometrically patterned green synthetic carpets that spark when you walk on them in socks, pay-per-view porno TV, Fry's chocolate creams in the mini-bar and tournedos rossini with pommes dauphinoises in the "convenient restaurant and bar, open till 9pm". Whatever happened to droit de seigneur, your weight in gold, lands in Aquitaine, or a place in Valhalla? You would never have got a crusade going on the promise of plush hospitality complexes.

Would it have impressed Idi Amin? Daniel Arap Moi? Francois Mitterrand? I think not. "But Jack," Idi would no doubt have pointed out to Dr Cunningham, as he nibbled on one of the many choice human titbits stored up and refrigerated as part of his own famous reward system, "if you'd got a Saturday job at Hoseasons you could have had a free fortnight in Bermuda."

Chevening? Chequers? Dorneywood? Soulless and sad. Offices with nice gardens, and anyway you have to give them back when you get caught accepting a free cheese from a local scoutmaster. Newspaper editors who have their houses given to them by their munificent proprietors do not have to give them back. At least, not as far as they know.

Concorde, schmoncorde: a plane full of grotesque old men in shiny suits, grown fat on expenses, trying to hustle stewardesses into the loos. Nobody rich actually travels on it at all. In my experience, 90 per cent of the punters have won magazine prizes or Blind Date, and they spend the whole flight tutting at the noisy kids at the back who wrote to Jim'll Fix It. Speed is all very well, but with an IMF/World Bank meeting at the end of the journey, I'd have thought the most desirable flight is the one that takes longest to get there. You'd want as many crap films and strange pink cheesecakes as possible to make up for having to listen to the Belgian finance minister talk about okra, or whatever they do there.

Now, Airforce One is a perk - that is the sort of thing that might persuade a chap to go into politics. America's continued confidence in Bill Clinton is due almost entirely to his having a cool aeroplane. And think of the Harrison Ford movie Airforce One - if someone made a thriller in which Tony Blair got kidnapped they'd have to call it Quite Nice Rover.

The Prime Minister's decision to forgo large chunks of a fairly innocuous salary package, which the cabinet followed like a stack of grumpy dominoes collapsing, has created an environment in which politics is suddenly something you do for your God or your country or your principles, and any talk of making a living is a bit rude. You are meant to do it because you love it.

Like footballers - most of whom have courtesy cars. Last week a fifth Manchester United player took delivery of a new Ferrari. And yet Gordon Brown is embarrassed over a few helicopter flights round Bangkok. Now, what is sleazy about that? Well, yes, OK, but not the money part of it.

Frankly, I'd rather be a nurse. A glance through last week's Nursing Times found the Gloucestershire Royal Trust offering "on-site beauty therapist and holistic massage service" as part of a perks package for staff, not forgetting to mention, to those pained by the thought of relocation, "Gloucester's attractive docks area, home to the fascinating National Waterways Museum". More enticing still, the Leicester Royal Infirmary offered potential recruits a guided tour of Leicester night life and a free raffle with prizes from Next.

Nor is perk-related indignation confined to these shores. A Dutch newspaper headline on 6 January lamented "Jobless Irish flown to Holland by private jet" and went on to rant that hundreds of Irish people were being offered, in return for working in Dutch factories, four free air tickets home a year. (Bad workers, I suppose the joke goes, were offered six.)

If perks are to determine your choice of job, then who would not forgo the sad life of a cabinet minister with its miserable extras for, say, a job with Pertemps Recruitment, which offers long-term staff the services of a dating agency? Or with Reuters, which has recently signed up Impropera, an itinerant improvisational opera show, to help motivate jaded hacks? Workers at Loot have been receiving free fruit since the mid-eighties and Virgin Atlantic Airways staff get an annual party at Richard Branson's home with funfairs, Sumo wrestling and boating. Besides such riches, do not the charms of Concorde seem a little wan?

In a survey by Hogg Robinson Financial Services it transpired that 75 per cent of UK workers who have life insurance as part of their pay package do not know they have it - the ingrates! Perhaps dear Jack should take heed of their professed ignorance and claim he did not know his hospitality complex was plush.

Such a ploy would never appeal to BP's operations support secretary, Marion Culder, however, who revealed in the same survey that she had recently received her "dream perk": a "familiarisation visit" to Gleneagles, to be shown the facilities and attend a banquet.

It is all a question of ethics. But help is at hand. The Infoworld website attempts to help workers through this moral labyrinth with five easy guidelines suggested by Bill Nance, professor of management information systems at San Jose State University. I particularly like number two, in which he advises workers to "Follow the 'would I tell my mom?' rule: if you're engaging in an activity that you would feel uncomfortable telling someone about whose approval you seek - like your mother - then think twice before conducting that activity." Otherwise known as the Code of Onan, this little gem could be just what Tony Blair is looking for to tidy up his cabinet.

On a personal note: aside from the occasional three-star titbits that fall to my feet as a restaurant critic, and the holidays which are, after all, a terrible burden to write up, and the taxi journeys which are crucial because if I was on the bus my writing hand might get damaged, it is not all a bed of roses. When, in 1996, a short article on aftershave required the acquisition of £1,500-worth of complimentary designer pong I was burgled within a week by young men who took every bottle but the Old Spice. When I phoned my insurers to explain that these freebies had been nicked, they informed me that I could claim three-quarters of their full value. I thus trousered £1,125.

"Great," said my girlfriend. "We can go to Barbados."

"We already are," I said despondently. "The paper's paying."

Cash, you see, had become utterly useless.

Giles Coren is restaurant critic for "Tatler" and editor of "Tatler About Town". Research for this article was carried out at the Paris Ritz. His wife picked up the bill