I've just been out and about at an appointment and was listening to Radio Five Live. Nick Clegg was on and the subject was, as you'd expect, expenses. One caller rang in and asked Clegg about how much he had claimed in expenses during his time as an MEP, and the response nearly caused me to crash the car because of what he said.
Clegg started to explain how, as an MEP, he got quite a few allowances, some of which he didn't take - like the second pension. However, he got on to the subject of travelling and explained how he would fly from East Midland airport to Brussels and Strasbourg. He mentioned how the budget airlines did really good deals.
All sounds good right? Using budget airlines etc. However he then went to explain how the allowance for travelling was stupidly high and he could have flown first class every time on a big name carrier but chose not too. At this point I was thinking, well that's good, not excessive, he only used his travel allowance to fly as cheaply as he could.
Then, and this is the bit that threw me, he said that he was clever and put all that extra travel allowance money aside and used it for his office instead. Now, you may be shocked to hear that, and think it's a bit of a fiddle - after all, its not an office allowance its a travel allowance. However, I've just learnt that travel allowances for MEPs are actually flat rate based on distance to Brussels and Strasbourg; and - this is the scary bit - MEPs are allowed to keep what they don't spend of that flat rate.
So, Nick Clegg, flew cheap (good), but took all the money anyway (bad), and all "within the rules".
How much he must have taken precisely is not known, but its a bit rich for him to be lecturing sanctimoniously about the terrible expenses system in Westminster, whilst simultaneously admitting that when he was in Brussels he used to essentially "pocket the difference" (within the rules natch) from the cost of his flights and his flat rate travel allowance. No?
Update: Apparently the rules are going to be changing for MEPs very soon so they won't be able to keep money that is leftover in their travel allowance.
Update II: From the comments, Gawain Towler notes that Clegg will have also received £4500 a year for office expenses already. Leading to the conclusion that if he had to top it up it must have been a really crap office.