By Ollie Campbell
The best way to avoid the sleaze of Downing Street may be to pamper up the PM.
Arguably, the leader of a country is the most important person in that country at any one time. Various developed nations of the world recognise this and realise that a leader is extremely perilous in that their actions can have the most devastating impacts. As a result, a certain level of pampering the leader is necessary to keep them in order. America is the most perspicuous example of this, as the President is given extensive living quarters with swimming pools, tennis courts etc., Air Force One and a colossal amount of staff, including a personal doctor and chefs from all over the world. France has very similar, with the Elysée palace and similar entertainment/staff facilities as the American President.
The similarities, however, seem to be less existent when it comes to Britain. The public purse shells out for almost every official and expert in the country to assist the PM in his daily work. Although, when it comes to private life, it seems as though it is incomparable with that of America and France. The small flats of Downing street and few domestic staff leave the PM in a likely miserable state. The most powerful person in the country has to queue up for lunch with all the other Parliamentary workers. Following on from the issues over Mr Johnson’s flat renovations, it has to be asked, would the PM be more honest and attempt less money laundering if he was pampered more?
As much as a £160,000 salary seems like a lot of money, when financing an expensive divorce (his second) and six children, one being a small baby, it can’t be easy to budget well. Especially so when his most notable income from writing and speaking has been reduced to almost nothing. The PM has had more to deal with than most as he split with his wife, had a new baby with his girlfriend, a near-death experience with Covid and running the country at a time that is plausibly the hardest in post-war history. Therefore, having to lighten his domestic load will have to be done at his own expense, leading to the concealed actions we have all read of in the last few weeks.
Manifestly, the reasoning behind Britain’s wariness to spend money on politicians comes from a mix of tradition and instinct. For hundreds of years, politicians have been aristocratic and usually the wealthiest of the population, leading to lower salaries which have consequently been maintained. The instinct is in us all: politicians do not deserve large sums of money and therefore should be treated like normal citizens because we don’t trust them. It is right for our focus to be put on the NHS, whose hospital treated Mr Johnson when suffering from Covid, unlike Mr Trump who was in the presidential suite of a military hospital. Additionally, the lesson of frugality should surely start from the top, those who are budgeting for the entire country. The one difference Britain has against France and America is the Head of State role; we have a Queen to embody wealth, not a Prime Minister.
Whether the Prime Minister needed to spend £58,000 renovating his flat is more than improbable. However, each PM is entitled to £30,000 per annum to use for renovations, so forcing Mr Johnson to pay for all of the upgrades from his own pocket seems slightly unfair. Everyone has their personal preference as to how they would prefer their house to be, both in practicality and aesthetic sense. However far-fetched Mr Johnson's claims of his predecessor’s "John Lewis furniture nightmare,” are, he has a right to redevelop the flat according to his individual inclinations. Although using Lulu Lytle, one of Britain’s most fashionable designers, is thought to have been a choice of Ms Symonds rather than Mr Johnson, the questioning of where this finance has come from is what attracted public attention.
The Prime Minister’s common insouciant demeanour looks like it has paid off in the form of these decorations. Mr Johnson has managed to get a private donor, Lord Brownlow, to fund most redecorations of Downing Street. Hints were made at the possibility of a trust used for renovations, but the Cabinet Secretary announced that “a charitable trust can’t cover private areas of Downing Street.” Downing Street has quickly responded to any allegations, saying the PM has paid for everything himself. There is potential for criminal prosecution dependent on the result of the Electoral Commission investigation, but it is highly unlikely.
Already, Mr Johnson has unnecessarily spent large amounts of time attempting to pay for the redecoration, which was fairly modest in comparison to other world leaders. To put it in perspective, President Obama and President Trump spent $1.5m and $1.75m respectively on upgrades to the White House. Now the country’s leader is going to be wasting more time answering questions and being scrutinised on where he has received the finance from. Having seen the characteristics of the current PM, gaining his full attention is probably a hard task and therefore continuous challenges over the flat renovations are not doing the country any good.
As a result, it has to be asked, would it be more beneficial if we spent more on the Prime Minister in a residential and domestic sense?
Image credit: UK Prime Minister