Can David Laws really just walk back into the cabinet after being found guilty of fiddling his expenses?
I must confess, I’m somewhat confused about this whole David Laws affair.
The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who, let it not be forgotten, was responsible for orchestrating last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review with George Osborne, and is responsible for the current cuts which are causing so much woe) resigned as a minister last year as it came to light that he had claimed £40,000 between 2004 and 2009, to pay rent to a man who happened to be his husband. This blatant breach of expenses rules was explained as Laws trying to keep private his sexuality.
This didn’t wash with me at the time, and it doesn’t wash now. Did he really need to pretend that James Lundie was his landlord? And did he need to pay him a small fortune? It seems incredibly iffy.
Today he was censured by the Parliamentary authorities, made to apologise to the House, and suspended for seven days. This is a fairly harsh punishment, as far as Parliament goes. And yet, the Lib Dems and apparently the Tories are eager for him to return to cabinet. Witness David Cameron; “I think he has a lot to offer public life and I hope he stays in public life.”
This is a man who falsely claimed £40k of taxpayers money. This being the man who nearly caused a rebellion in his own party when the original expenses scandal broke, with his hardline approach to expenses offenders. And yet now he wants David Laws back in his cabinet? That doesn’t seem to tally.
And just to add to that, remember Eric Illsley? The former Labour MP for Barnsley Central, who was jailed for his expenses? He falsley claimed £14,000. David Chaytor? £18,500. But David Laws falsely claims £40,000 and he gets an invitation back to the cabinet. Could it be because he’s one of the so-called “Orange Book-ers”? Or because he’s one of the increasingly rare friends of Clegg?
The really galling thing, though, is that the Liberal Democrats spent the 2010 general election campaign running on a “new politics” platform, as the only party untouched by the expenses scandal. David Laws campaigned along those lines- despite clearly knowing that he had breached the rules and abused the system. So he’s a liar and hypocrite. As I recall, Phil Woolas lost his seat for that very crime.
And the idea that he did it to hide that he was gay? This is supposed to be an enlightened age. Sexuality is not supposed to matter. If Laws wanted to maintain his privacy, he could have done. Blaming it on his sexuality seems to me like a cheap, sensationalist attempt at distraction, and really it only brings shame to Parliament and the Lib Dems.
(Speaking of, where did the Lib Dems get this reputation as a pro-LGBT party? Does anyone remember the 1983 Bermondsey bye-election? There’s only one party which has ever done anything of note for LGBT rights, and it isn’t yellow.)
Basically, it just seems strange comparing the reactions between Laws and other MPs who broke expenses rules. Laws seems to be treated as the victim, whereas others are demonised. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but it seems that Lib Dems are still treated as whiter than snow. I haven’t a clue why, given how many promises they have broken, and how much hurt they are causing. But it certainly doesn’t seem fair that Laws should get away with a slap on the wrist and an invitation back into cabinet, for what the public were calling for the heads of other MPs for doing.