What is the most common sin of elected officials? You guessed it. Taking advantage of their position to gain private benefits. The London political scene has been up in arms with two ‘scandals’ in the past months, both of them probably more political than legal. The first was David Cameron’s lobbying for a failed financial group, long after his full exit from public life, but ostensibly using connections he gained while he was prime minister. The latest stems from Boris Johnson’s spending a very modest amount of money to upgrade his living quarters at 10 Downing Street. The allegation is not that he used taxpayer money improperly, but rather that the refurbishment was paid by friends, in contravention of election rules. Where is the honour of the office, for the man responsible for the security and health of 60m Britons? Ah, that is only for the Royals, whose closest life and death decisions are whether to kill or spare the next goose at Balmoral…
This case is similar, if simpler, to Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal travails in several criminal cases opened against him. The cases range from receiving cigars from businessmen, to asking for Champagne, to requesting good (fair?) media treatment in a country where, much like the US, the media is in the hands of the left-wing liberals.
It seems that there is a much cheaper, more efficient, and fair way to deal with these ‘mini-sleaze’ issues: afford prime ministers compensation and benefits that reflect the importance and honour of their office, not because they should gain a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the taxpayers, but much more pragmatically because if they can afford to pay for furniture and cigars, they won’t have to ask favours, which have a tendency to be called at some point.
Countries like the United States, but even revolutionary France, and of course Putin’s Russia, treat their senior leaders much more lavishly. They don’t need to spend their pocket money in doing up their living quarters, as this is done at the expense of the State. Just like the queen, the President has attendants that take care of his every need, including helping him to dress in the morning! Contrast this to the British prime minister who has to cook his own dinner, or to the Israeli prime minister who has to rent an El Al plane to travel for State trips (a new plane has finally been ordered), and has to sit on a public beach if he wants to go on vacation (unless he has his own funds of course).
And when things go wrong and these leaders face legal action? They have to spend their own money and time to defend them while in office. Mr. Netanyahu is responsible for the safety of nearly 10m Israelis who live under the shadow of missiles, terrorism, cyber threats, nuclear bombs, and more recently, Covid of course, but he has to spend incredible time, concentration, and resources in defending himself in court. Contrast this with the United States, where the president can only be indicted for high crimes and treason, and even that is a political exercise which takes a couple of months, not many years, as we have recently witnessed. Or consider the French system, where sitting presidents cannot be indicted for crimes until their term is up, as it happened recently with Chirac and Sarkozy.
Our leaders’ time and attention are priceless. One hour flight time of an F-15 can pay for a lifetime of cigars, champagne and sofas. Let’s pay our leaders fairly and generously and then expect full attention and no conflicts of interest.