Most of government is about numbers. Most decisions involve taking £X from Jack to give £Y to Jill and £Z to Jerry. And no topic is more numerical than the expenses of MPs. Sadly, the British public is innumerate, which is why newspapers are unwilling to give them a succinct numerical analysis of this (or any other) topic. That was brought home when the Mirror published a long list of which MPs claimed for fuel expenses for their second homes. Many other newspapers copied the story. However, none provided any analysis beyond picking a few examples of the MPs making the biggest claims and/or trying to link the story to the barely related topic of why energy bills have risen.
And so, the British public is encouraged to use all this useful empirical data to form whichever irrational conclusion best suits their existing prejudices. The resulting internet comments highlighted how useless most people are, when it comes to analysing data. Comments ranged from perennial favourite “they’re all as bad as each other” – so obviously false that you can only sympathize with those MPs who are decent and honest – to fatuous rants about why the Tories are uniquely hypocritical for making the same kind of expense claim as made by MPs of all other parties. So, for those of you who can cope with numbers but want to spare yourselves the 30-minute job that no newspaper journalist is competent to perform, here is the breakdown of the Mirror’s data, analysed by political party.
46% of Conservative MPs claimed expenses for fuel on their second homes. The 140 claimants received £92,902 in total. The mean average claim was £664. Treated as a whole, Tory MPs claimed £307 on average.
60% of Labour MPs claimed. The 156 claimants received £87,393 in total. The mean average claim was £560. Treated as a whole, Labour MPs claimed £340 on average.
55% of Lib Dem MPs claimed. The 31 claimants received £8,790 in total. The mean average claim was £284. Treated as a whole, Lib Dem MPs claimed £157 on average.
75% of DUP MPs claimed. The 6 claimants received £2,493 in total. The mean average claim was £416. Treated as a whole, DUP MPs claimed £312 on average.
Scottish National Party
67% of SNP MPs claimed. The 4 claimants received £1,446 in total. The mean average claim was £362. Treated as a whole, SNP MPs claimed £241 on average.
All Plaid Cymru MPs claimed. The 3 claimants received £1,286 in total. The average claim for Plaid Cymru MPs was £429.
The only Alliance MP claimed £696.
From Northern Ireland, there was no claim made by any of the 5 Sinn Fein MPs or 3 SDLP MPs. No claim was made by the other 8 MPs who variously represent the Green Party, Respect, or are independent.
The Conservatives exhibited the greatest variety in their attitude to making claims. Their top 20 claimants received £46,527, but they were the only major party where a majority of MPs made no claim. Of the major parties, Labour MPs made most use of their right to claim second home heating bills, averaging £340 per each Labour MP. More than half of Liberal Democrat MPs made a claim, but their claims were significantly smaller than those made by the other major parties. The Lib Dems claimed £157 per MP, less than half the equivalent figure for Labour. No party claimed less per MP, with the exception of those small parties where no MPs submitted a claim.
Analysing other parties is less reliable given the small number of MPs involved. Nevertheless, there are some clear divisions. In Northern Irish politics, there were no claims from the 8 MPs representing Sinn Fein and the SDLP, whilst the typical claim from the DUP and Alliance was well above the parliamentary average. Scots and Welsh Nationalists are much more likely to claim this expense than the rest of Parliament. In contrast, this expense was not claimed by anyone who was independent or representing a small party in an English constituency.