The British public is caught up in one of its occasional “fits of morality”, says Adrian Wooldridge in Bloomberg. People are outraged over reports about the political class “living the high life at public expense”: Rishi Sunak spending £4,500 on Venice hotel rooms during a G20 meeting; Foreign Office officials splurging £500,000 on rugs and wallpapers over 12 months. But a lot of the scrimping we demand from our government is “penny wise and pound foolish”. Do we expect diplomats to cram themselves on to Ryanair flights when they try to sell Britain abroad? Or for leaders like Sunak to trudge off to cheap hotels while the world’s powerbrokers network at glitzier establishments?
If anything, we don’t spend enough on pampering our prime ministers. The most precious resource politicians and officials have is their time – paying for them to travel business class, for example, helps them use it most efficiently. Yet Downing Street is a “threadbare” set-up: PMs have to queue up in a canteen for lunch or make a sandwich in their cramped flat; their private domestic staff “consists of just a cleaner”. Contrast that with the French president “ensconced in elegance” at the Élysée Palace, with a private doctor and chef on hand. The truth is that Britain’s political penny-pinching keeps talented people away from public life. As a result, we end up with “fanatics who relish wearing hair shirts” or failures who couldn’t make it anywhere else.