By Ray Fleming

YESTERDAY was probably the worst day yet in the long-running saga of MPs expenses and allowances. The complete picture of Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry was available and showed that 364 MPs had broken the rules -- more than half the membership of the House of Commons. To be fair, some of the offences were trivial -- Labour MP Mike Gapes' 40p over-claiming on a hotel bill, for instance -- but many were substantial. The Labour minister Barbara Follett was hit hardest, having to repay over 42'000 pounds; in the list of top five offenders she was followed by four Conservative MPs. The fate of some MP's who have been interviewed by the police remains to be determined. No figures are yet available on how many of the 364 named offenders have already announced that they will not be contesting their seats at the coming election. Many may think that their offences were small or unintentional and can be explained away to the electorate. But in marginal seats and even some formerly safe seats the mud may stick and voters will express their anger.

This is a factor which has not yet been reflected in opinion polls and whose effect may not be known until the votes are counted. Conservatives and Labour are equally vulnerable -- the LibDems may benefit but even more likely is either large scale protest absenteeism at the polls or a voting shift to minor parties.