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Breaking Laws?

May 29th, 2010 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized by

David Laws is trouble with the Telegraph over his expenses. He stands accused of claiming for rent from his long-term partner which may be against rules against paying rent to a spouse or equivalent. He has accepted a degree of fault, offered to pay money back, given an explanation based on protecting his privacy, and referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. His future as a minister must be considered uncertain. 

There are two issues within the Laws story. The first is what level of privacy it is reasonable for someone to expect in public life. Here his behaviour looks understandable if naive and anachronistic. Not a resigning issue, but if you want complete privacy don’t claim public money that depends on honest disclosure of your personal relationships.

The second issue is familial benefit. Did his arrangements mean either he or his partner gained at the taxpayer’s expense? That is the point of the rule in question. Here he may be in trouble on the decision to rent from his partner, the amount, and whether his claim that their relationship was not akin to that of spouses stacks up. That accounting and legal headache is for him and the investigating Commissioner.

Can he survive? The view of most commentators so far is yes he can. On beliefs and ability alone  this blog would rather he did. His decisions look foolish not self-enriching, and Julian Glover’s analogy with Lord Browne of BP is apt, but it will depend on what the Commissioner rules.

His reputation though, and that of the Coalition is damaged.

Politically part of the Liberal Democrat narrative in the last election was that none of our MPs had broken the rules, carefully avoiding any mention of the other place, or the motives behind some claims, but still holier than though. It was unwise then, it is defunct now.

Our policy was that those in serious breach of the rules could be subject to a recall ballot by their constituents. I believe some form of that will still be a part of the Parliamentary Reform proposals.

The logical conclusion, depending on the timing of the legislation and what the Commissioner’s actually rules, is that Yeovil might see the first test. If that happens David Laws would be wise to welcome the process. The Commissioner will influence whether he gets to remain a minister. His constituents are the best judges of his longer-term political future.

8 Responses to “Breaking Laws?”

  1. Bill Kristol-Balls Says:

    I think my feelings on this can be best summed up as follows…


    Just when you get a Liberal in the cabinet doing well, disaster strikes. But what’s the opposition going to say? Have we heard from Alastair ‘Flipper’ Darling yet.

    David Laws should go back to his constituency this weekend, have lots of meetings with his constituents and if they think he should carry on then fine, if not, I’d guess that would be the end of his political career.

  2. Barendina Smedley Says:

    Can we please have some modicum of a sense of proportion when it comes to discussing MPs’ expenses? (Less a comment about this blog, where commentary is relatively nuanced and sane, but honestly, have you seen Conservative Home today? )

    At worst, David Laws was slow to reveal the whole circumstances behind an arrangement that was, at least when he began it, completely within parliamentary rules and norms. For what it’s worth, I think it’s grotesque that no area of an MP’s life is now safe from public scrutiny – not least because it keeps some first-rate people out of political life. And, frankly, we could use them at the moment.

    As a Tory, I have no hesitation in saying that Mr Laws’ prominent role within the Coalition is one of my absolutely favourite things about it. As that rare thing, a mature MP who has had a successful ‘real world’ career before entering politics, Mr Laws unquestionably brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, gravitas and good sense to a political arena far too full of Westminster Village idiots whose competence does not extend beyond the public affairs / SPAD / research assistant ambit. He appeared to show truly extraordinary powers of persuasion and constructive deal-making during the creation of the Coalition. His grasp of public finance inspires confidence. He actually knows something about the City. He is, in short, quite simply too good to lose. Even if he had done something far more shady – and to repeat, from what I have seen he appears to have acted entirely within the rules – I think we’d be mad to lose him.

    And this, finally, is what I mean about a sense of proportion. At worst, what has Mr Laws’ domestic arrangements cost the Exchequer? £40,000. That is an amount that would be lost without comment in the rounding errors connected with most public expenditure – the billions, for instance, spent on ineffectual meddling with markets during the recent downturn, let alone the equally misspent billions continually p*ssed away by successive governments on ‘public services’ so markedly dysfuctional that pretty much anyone who can opt out to a private sector alternative does so.

    Isn’t mismanagement on a scale of billions of pounds, going back for decades, slightly more important than anything Mr Laws may or may not have done? And if that’s the case – and if Mr Laws may well be the person most capable of getting to grips with ending that mismanagement, and starting a new era of more rational and responsible public spending – than can we really afford to get rid of him?

  3. Jack Hughes Says:

    He must go now.

    If he has done nothing wrong them why is he giving the money back ?

  4. Barendina Smedley Says:

    He’s giving back the money because that’s become the conventional thing for politicians to do the minute anyone starts making a fuss over their finances.

    I take it you think David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne should resign immediately as well, given that they also gave back money?

  5. Dave Atherton Says:


    As Liberal Vision’s resident, but I hope constructive Tory troll can I give your post a resounding hear, hear. I understand that Laws’ desire for privacy is sincere. He is a real talent, who has had a proper job and professionally has made an outstanding start to being Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

    The loss to the country would be incalculable.

  6. Jack Hughes Says:

    Being gay is not a defence.
    Being talented is not a defence.

    The charge is that he fiddled his expenses. He either fiddled his expenses or he didn’t. If he didn’t fiddle his expenses he has no need to hand the money back.

    We are not talking about other people (nice try).

  7. Barendina Smedley Says:

    ‘Being talented is not a defence’?

    Personally, if I were undergoing heart surgery, I’d probably care more about whether my heart surgeon was good at heart surgery than I would about whether, for instance, he was really good about filling in his income tax returns in fully accurate detail.

    I should add again that I don’t think Laws did anything wrong – as far as I am concerned, ‘spouse’ implies marriage / civil partnership – and in particular, I don’t think he did anything more wicked than Cameron, Clegg, Osborne etc.

    But the saddest thing about all of this – other than how indescribably awful it must be for Laws to have to ‘come out’ to his aged parents under these circumstances, my heart absolutely does go out to him right now – is that, at a time when the UK more than ever needs the sort of intellectual rigour, determination and competence that Laws possesses, the Daily Telegraph has been allowed to sack him. If you think that £40,000 was a lot, let’s just wait and see how much this one is going to cost us.

  8. Dave Atherton Says:

    Bugger, he’s gone, gutted.

    “Treasury Minister David Laws resigns over expenses.”