By David Beeson
MPs’ expenses may be the big question of the day. But there is another problem which the media frequently agitate and will no doubt agitate again in the future and is far from resolved: the catastrophic decline in maths teaching in England. Strangely enough, the two questions are not unrelated. One of the things maths teaches is perspective. Arguably more than even art does. To illustrate the point, consider a couple of numbers:
If every MP claimed £24,000 in expenses, the total cost would be a shade less than £16 million pounds. This would run a little more than three English secondary schools for a year. So it’s a lot of money.
The total government debt to solve the credit crunch is likely to reach 1 to 1.5 trillion pounds.
The lower figure would pay for every secondary school in England for 69 years.
So why are we getting so fixated by the £16 million figure?
Is it perhaps because our MPs are too highly paid anyway? Actually, every backbench MP who takes £24,000 in expenses would still only have a little over £5000 more than a German MP’s salary – and the German MP can claim more generous expenses.
So it must be the moral issue. MPs are abusing the system so they should be exposed. But if that’s what we’re saying, then surely everyone who has ever tried to present information in such a way as to maximise the allowances they can claim, needs to be exposed in the same way. There is a generally accepted principle in society that we have the right to take every legal advantage we can – if the rules allow it, then we can legitimately take the benefit. Our MPs are supposed to represent us: why they should they be held to a higher-standard than any law-abiding citizen?
Words about ‘casting the first stone’ come to mind. Are they really without sin at the Daily Telegraph?
But of course the storm about expenses has nothing to do with numbers and nothing to do with morality. It has been seized on as a stick to beat this government – and the government’s catastrophic handling of it public relations has allowed it to be used that way. For a body that’s frequently castigated for its use of spin, it’s appallingly bad at it.
Come back to the numbers. The big one, the 1-1.5 trillion, is associated with something the government is handling pretty well, the response to the economic crisis.
The small one, the £16 million, is associated with something the government is handling poorly.
Is it any surprise its enemies are picking on that one?