THE plaudits haven’t exactly been flooding in of late for east London MP Harry Cohen.

But in the world of politics where honesty can be at a premium, at least he should take credit for his candour.

The Leyton and Wanstead MP faces an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after he claimed thousands of pounds towards the cost of buying a house in his constituency – on the basis that his main home is in Colchester.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon has accepted a complaint about Mr Cohen’s expenses and has started a preliminary inquiry.

A complaint had been lodged with the commissioner by a member of the public who suggested the MP may have broken the law on “obtaining money by false representation”.

On his website, Mr Cohen cheerfully admitted that he “enjoys living in Leyton” and revealed he enjoys “occasional rental income” from his former schoolhouse in East Stockwell Street, Colchester.

Quizzed on why he needed a separate constituency home, when his constituency was just a few miles from Westminster, he said his claim for the maximum parliamentary housing subsidy was “part of my salary”.

How the rest of Britain’s hard-pressed homeowners would cheer if their bosses casually slipped an extra few thousand in their pay packets to help with the mortgage.

There are disgruntled mumblings in the halls of officialdom to the effect that MPs like Mr Cohen, and local councillors enjoying more modest perks, are convenient prey for journalists.

Their expense claims are a matter of public record and can be tapped up in a few seconds on the internet.

It is a tougher challenge to expose the perks and privileges of the bankers and stockbrokers who many blame for our current financial woes – and who, in many cases, run taxpayer-subsidised institutions.

But scandal upon scandal is piling up and the embarrassing affair of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s expense claim, for porn films watched by her husband, was just the latest tawdry episode.

Easy meat or not, MPs who think this kind of thing will escape public scrutiny are not living in the real world.

Reform looks to be badly needed and, as usual, Colchester Lib Dem MP Bob Russell has a strong opinion on what should be done, suggesting a barracks-style accommodation block could be constructed for parliamentarians who need to stay in London overnight.

The thought of Prime Minister Gordon Brown queuing for the showers in his jim-jams is an intriguing one – but Mr Russell insists his idea is not as daft as it may sound.

“I share a very modest south London flat with another MP. Frankly I have seen better furnished student accommodation, and between us our combined costs are still less than the maximum which many individual MPs are claiming,” he said.

“All I need is a bed for the night, somewhere to go to late and leave early in the morning to get to the House of Commons three miles away, where I regularly put in a 15-hour day. I have no necessity for anything grander than this.”

Mr Russell’s Conservative opponent in the next general election, Will Quince, also believes the current system needs a major overhaul.

He admits it is “easy for me to say” as an outsider, but claims he would not have considered voting to give himself a payrise, were he in office.

“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I believe that kind of thing should be sorted out by an independent body.

“At a time when thousands of people are losing their jobs, I don’t see how a 2.3 per cent pay rise can be justified.”

A noble stance – but evidently not a position shared by the majority of MPs who have already secured their place on the Commons’ benches.

Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex, believes the current outcry will eventually lead to the introduction of a system similar to those administered by the majority of private and public organisations.

“If I have to travel or stay away from home in connection with my work for the university I have to pay for it and then submit an expenses claim,” he said.

“If MPs have to work late and need to put up in a hotel or something, perhaps it should work the same way.

“There is very limited public sympathy for them using special allowances to buy houses, televisions or whatever else they feel they need.”