Comment at end
29th May 2010
UPDATE, 8:00pm: David Laws resigns (Laws’ letter to Cameron). Video of Clegg’s response to this resignation. Did he jump before he was pushed? Very likely, imho, or he would have resigned this morning while telling us that he was referring himself to the Parliamentary Standards Committee. However, his determination to stay was probably less than was CamClegg’s desire to retain him. Matthew D’Ancona says that “Andy Coulson, the PM’s communications chief, warned him of the gathering media storm and the likely scale of the onslaught on Mr Laws. The Chief Secretary and Mr Cameron spoke on the phone at around 3pm, by which time it was becoming increasingly clear that Mr Laws was going to have to go.” Mr Laws has done the right thing. I give it a matter of months before he is back, especially if the Parliamentary Standards Committee finds in his favour. See “A weaker coalition”.
£40,000 CLAIMED (now repaid) BY CHIEF SECRETARY TO TREASURY. DAVID LAWS SAYS HE WAS MOTIVATED “NOT TO MAXIMISE PROFIT” BUT TO KEEP HIS GAY RELATIONSHIP SECRET
IT’S NONE OF OUR BUSINESS WHO YOU SHARE PILLOW-TALK WITH, MR LAWS
First of all, sadly, and I DO regret this fact, I do not think we need to know about political individuals’ private lives or even sexual proclivities (excepting anything whatsoever to do with under-age tendencies, which we DO need to know) notwithstanding politicians’ fears that “proclivity” is how they feel others will see them. In Blair’s Britain, as Matthew Parris once put it so eloquently in an article now unfindable on the net, we are way past that kind of judgemental nonsense.
However, it is a fact that one cannot be in the British public eye and remain “private”. It’s just the way it is with the blood-scenting media breathing down every political neck.
BUT IT IS OUR BUSINESS IF YOU CLAIM EXPENSES MISLEADINGLY
So that “privacy” argument from Mr Laws is a non-argument. And what’s more I believe it cannot hold, even if genuinely felt.
He can argue and does that even his closest family – no-one in other words – knew anything about his sexual preferences and arrangements and that that was how he wanted things to remain. But NONE of that, understandable as it may be, explains why he did not in his high-minded Lib Dem way include financial arrangements for accommodation as also subject to confidentiality arrangements.
- In other words, this reputed millionaire should have ensured anything which linked expenses payments to his personal relationship should not have been put on public (expenses) record or allowed into the public domain.
- In other words he should never have charged us for the fact that he and his suggested semantically confusing “partner” lived together.
- In other words, the man who went into investment banking, becoming a Vice President at JP Morgan from 1987 to 1992 and then Managing Director, being the Head of US Dollar and Sterling Treasuries at Barclays de Zoete Wedd, could have afforded “privacy” and could have afforded to make NO CLAIM on rental payments far more than can most of us, or even most MPs could have done.
EXPENSES SCANDAL – NOT THAT AGAIN!
Before I say more on David Laws’ predicament and that of his party and the present ConDem government, I would like to reiterate that I am not and never was in agreement with The Telegraph on its “expenses scandal”. I always saw it as a bullet in that paper’s armament to further weaken and eventually dislodge the Labour government. Others in our press climbed on the supercilious bandwagon, and in the end it is generally agreed that the Conservatives, who the Torygraph always have and always will presumably support, also suffered by their revelations. Thus the Tories failed to win the election with an overall majority. The Liberal Democrats were less harmed by the expenses issue, probably due to their MPs numbers being in the tens and not the hundreds, so there were fewer of them to be caught out “sinning”.
Of course the Lib Dems had another widely accepted bullet, or rather cuddly, harmless cotton-wool ball, in their armoury. They were, to coin a phrase “purer than pure”, and thus integrity, honesty and goodness personified.
That widespread view was never the reality, and still isn’t. More on that in a later post.
BLACK ‘ N ‘ WHITE, WRONG EXPENSES CLAIMS
This is not to say that there are some MPs whose expenses claims seem very questionable, in my humble opinion, for instance –
1. The Labour MPwho claimed interests payments on a mortgage he was no longer paying. Seems black and white. Seems WRONG.
2. The Nationalist MPs who tried to bring down the British government, by bringing down Tony Blair on an “illegal war” charges, paying for legal advice with their publicly funded “office expenses”. Seems black and white. Seems wrong.
Naturally the latter was hardly referred to by our feral beasts. Yes, it is instructive that this intended coup against the British state was never questioned by the press, though it was by me here and here and here and here.
Many will understand that Laws’ position seems not to fall into the categories of outright lying or of intended treason by misuse of public funds, as I do see the above two, in order given. Rather as deceit by omission. Perhaps he feared omitting to claim, thinking that NOT submitting a claim for expenses would draw more fire from the bloodhound press, than submitting a claim.
But as for Laws’ insistence that these expenses claims were to do with his concern over not wishing to disclose even to his nearest and dearest, his homosexuality – come ON, now.
The first way to have done that would be NOT to link IN ANY WAY his accommodation payments to his expenses. As a reputed millionaire he surely didn’t need to claim for this money, if as a ‘private person’, he did not wish to associate his name and that of his ‘partner’ on the record.
Apart from the monthly claims of up to £950 per month there is also the fact that Mr Laws remortgaged his Yeovil property in order to help Mr Lundie get on the housing market.
“The Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files show that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month to sub-let a room in a flat in Kennington, south London. This flat was owned by the MP’s partner who was also registered as living at the property. The partner sold the flat for a profit of £193,000 in 2007.
In 2007, Mr Laws’s partner then bought another house nearby for £510,000. The MP then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property. His claims increased to £920 a month. The partner also lived at the property. Mr Laws’s main home is in his Yeovil constituency. The arrangement continued until September 2009, when parliamentary records show that Mr Laws switched his designated second home and began renting another flat at taxpayers’ expense. His partner remained at the Kennington house.”
It stinks, Mr Laws. It stinks of hypocrisy. Crying “privacy” won’t wash.
LAWS’ LAW: JAMES LUNDIE WAS NOT MY “PARTNER”
Despite the relationship between Mr Laws and Mr Lundie starting nine years ago, millionaire Mr Laws insists that it all depends on the meaning of “partner” (not in the business partner sense.)
‘David Laws, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, last night apologised for claiming more than £40,000 in parliamentary expenses renting rooms in properties owned by his partner.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The Prime Minister has been made aware of this situation and agrees with David Laws’ decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.”
Liberal Democrat sources last night admitted that Mr Laws faced serious questions over the affair.’
So, I wonder how hot are the phone lines between Mr Cameron & Mr Clegg today? And I wonder how long before they do the right thing? If there was a way back for Peter Mandelson (also homosexual, if it matters) no doubt Mr Laws too can return to office at some later date. Providing there is still an “office” to return to, of course.
I will be watching developments with interest, as will the press and the country. Since we were told by the press that the whole country was up in arms over expenses, if Laws is still a minister on Tuesday morning, the ConDem government is condemned to be short-lived, imho. We hardly need to await an inquiry, as Mr Ashdown suggests, playing for time.
It is all out in the open now, by dint of Laws’ open confession, personally painful as it may have been.
OTHER REPORTS ON THIS
Sir Alistair, who chaired the Committee on Standards in Public Life from 2003 until 2007, said he thought Mr Laws’s position was “very difficult”.
“I think that the real problem is the lack of judgment shown in resolving this issue about his expenses when, prior to the general election, expenses were the front page issue.
“It seems incredible that he didn’t sort out what we suspect, that he was particularly vulnerable because he had been claiming since the rules had changed, which said that you shouldn’t claim money to go to what was described as a partner.
“We have to remember that the Liberal Democrats took the moral high ground on the expenses issue while it was taking place… and that Nick Clegg was on top of the issue from the word go,” he said.
3. When even such as Julian Glover at the recently converted Lib Dem Guardian are saying that, “This is a scandal – if it is a scandal – caused by one man’s inability to face up to his sexuality, not a desire to fiddle expenses. Whether he is now a credible face of public spending cuts is for the media, his party, and the prime minister to decide. I desperately hope he survives. I fear he won’t”, Mr Laws’s present career may be short-lived. After all, after the Lib Dems the Guardian too is Sanctimony Personified.
4. Politics Home mentions that Sir Alistair Graham also criticised the Liberal Democrats, for having given the impression Nick Clegg “was on top of the issue right from the word go – when he had a senior member of his team who probably wasn’t considering his own position”.
5. Mr Integrity? Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown describes this as a “personal tragedy” (listen here) if it so suits him to try to uphold the Con/Lib government he tried so hard to stop a few weeks ago by ringing his former Lib/Lab coalition co-planner Tony Blair in the middle of the night. (Reported by Will Heaven – “Did Tony Blair personally torpedo a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition?”)
6. Today’s Guardian reminds us of what Mr Ashdown once thought of Mr Laws:
“Although his perspective is more centrist than rightwing, when he first stood as a Lib Dem, the Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown thought he was a Tory mole. After quitting a career in the City that made him a millionaire, Laws took over Ashdown’s Yeovil seat in 2001. He has since rejected overtures from the Tories to defect.”
Calls to leave it to the Parliamentary Commission will not wash, Paddy. Mr Cameron was quick in earlier difficult days (before he became PM, of course) to dismiss those who upset the apple-cart. If he doesn’t do so again today and smartish, before the Sunday papers get a hold of things, there will be fun in the papers as we have never seen before.
7. Wall Street Journal – damaging, as Laws is No 2 in Treasury.
‘Toby Young’s gossip from the Newsnight green room is worth flagging up again. He reports the following bombshell:
…on the evening of Monday, May 10, after the first talks had taken place between Labour and the Lib Dems, Paddy Ashdown frantically tried to get in touch with Tony Blair in the hope of persuading him to broker a deal. He eventually reached him by telephone at 3am on Tuesday morning only to be told that he thought it wasn’t in Labour’s interest to remain in office. “We need to go into Opposition,” Blair told the former Lib Dem leader.
Music to Gordon Brown’s ears, I’m sure. But at least Paddy Ashdown can now answer that age-old political question, “Who do you want to answer the 3am phone call?” Not, it seems, that former PM.’
9. An updated Wikipedia entry names his partner David Lundie, and says:
On 28 May 2010, the Daily Telegraph newspaper claimed that Laws had claimed over £40,000 on his expenses in the form of second home costs, from 2004 to late 2009. In actual fact, he had been renting a room at a property owned by what the paper claimed to be his “secret lover” and “long-term partner”, James Lundie. The Daily Telegraph also made clear that it had not intended to reveal his sexuality, but that Laws had himself done so, in a public statement shortly before the newspaper’s publication of the story. Lundie is a former Liberal Democrat Press officer and now works for the Political Affairs team of public relations and lobbying firm, Edelman.
According to the Telegraph, Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month between 2004 and 2007 to sub-let a room in a flat owned and lived in by his partner in Kennington, South London. After the flat was sold for a profit of £193,000 in 2007, Laws’s partner bought a nearby house for £510,000. Laws then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property, at a cost of £920 a month, until September 2009. Laws, whose main home is in his Yeovil constituency, then began renting another flat. This flat was not owned by his partner, who remained at the Kennington house. Since 2006, parliamentary rules have banned MPs from “leasing accommodation from…a partner.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The prime minister has been made aware of this situation and he agrees with David Laws’s decision to refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.”
ON THE OTHER HAND – THERE ARE SOME WHO SEE THE DARK HAND OF ‘DIRTY TRICKS’ AT PLAY –
The inference here, and let’s not shy away from spitting it out, is that Peter Mandelson is behind this “outing”. Arguing the whys and wherefores of the law as developed under Labour is a little weak. It’s the law, regardless. The same laws that some people throw at Blair for “lying to parliament” or “illegal invasions”. Only in the latter cases the accusations are wrong.
Listen to BBC Radio 4 Today audio report on this. The controversy surrounding the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, is a “massive distraction, motivated possibly by politics, to try to tear David down”. So says Mr Laws’ parliamentary colleague, the Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne.
Since Mr Laws’ task is to reduce the deficit and encourage public sector workers to reduce their pay and perks, Mr Laws’ position is likely to be untenable. His defenders claim that his ‘partner’ was NOT a spouse he was living with and paying for accommodation. I doubt if the public will see this as the case. The central point, his defenders say is maintaining a private life. Sorry, that is NOT the main concern. A red herring, as John Humphrys says. I do have to laugh about the “we are in a state of collective self-harm if we are in the business of pulling down people on personal matters.” by Jermey Browne. Isn’t that what “we” did with Tony Blair “the poodle”, “liar”, “warmonger”, “moneygrubber” and Gordon Brown the “indecisive”, “dysfunctional” “bully”?
At this Evening Standard article on the day Tony Blair appeared at The Iraq Inquiry amidst some of them arguing about whether they’ll feel better “when” (not ‘if’) Blair is “burnt at the stake” a commenter says:
“This whole episode is just a waste of taxpayers money,nothing will come of it,it is like the expenses of MPs,even when told to give the money back like Lib Dem Jeremy Browne,they just appeal it and get away with it.Hopefully,come election,we the British public with get rid of the whole lot of rubbish that we entrusted to run our country,but the people are to weak to do what needs to be done,and the politicians know it.”
It seems Mr Browne is a dab hand at proving his innocence on expenses misdoings: “An MP who was ordered to repay £18,000 by the official auditor of Commons expenses has successfully appealed against the demand.”
Perhaps he can turn his dab hand to helping out Mr Laws. But first of all, Mr Laws will have to explain how his double first at Oxford didn’t alert him to sorting out his own financial and personal situation in a way which would have put him above reproach. Perhaps he never expected to be in government.
And, no, Iain Dale, we can’t just say as you just did on BBC News channel that it would have cost us more if he’d bought a place years ago and just moved in with his partner. That is another red herring and alters nothing. Odd, btw, how Iain Dale’s earlier (April) stance against a coalition seems to have altered. Isn’t it just?
QUESTION TIME – WILL THE TRUTH OVER CAMPBELL NOW “OUT”?
So will we now see how principled the two heads at the top of government REALLY are? Will Cameron go heavy on Laws, or be persuaded by his political partner to hold his fire? If their behaviour the other night over Alastair Campbell’s Question Time appearance is anything to go by, he should be gone by tomorrow. Or rather shouldn’t, since principles fly out of the window when political considerations and expediency raise their ugly heads.
Am I the only one to wonder if on Thursday night the CamClegg leadership knew all about Laws’ outing and expenses?
Their withdrawal of David Laws may not after all have been to do with his being put up against Alastair Campbell, more a fear that he might be “outed” live on TV by Labour’s former “hatchet man”, if they thought he had been speaking to Lord Mandelson, the suspected knower of all secrets.
Jeremy Brown and Nick Clegg video (November 2009)
Follow-up posts on Laws
- Nick Cohen, on the Lib Dems: ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed’
- David Laws’ downfall is NOT a national tragedy. Seriously. It isn’t.
- Questions over ‘Question Time’, Alastair Campbell and David Laws
- BBC – David Laws, trusted by Gove, admirer of Tony Blair and his leadership over Iraq and his Academy Schools
- Cameron sacked a homophobic candidate within minutes”
- Tory MP Chris Grayling overlooked for Home Secretary or any government post after B&B “homophobic” remarks
- David Cameron warned his MPs to pay back money or be sacked. Presumably in today’s Alice-in-Wonderland world of who’s the real Queen/King/White Rabbit, Nick Clegg is relieved that Laws has already done so with the £40,000 claimed, seemingly, under false pretences.
- Tories Rainbow list of gay candidates
- Civil Partnerships Act, 2004
- The guidance for gays on entering a civil partnership
Tags: alastair campbell, Alex Salmond, £40000, charged us to bring Blair down, cheif secretary to the treasury, David Cameron, David Laws, David Laws resigns, expenses scandal, gay relationship, hypocrisy, hypocritical, indict Tony Blair, James Lundie, legal advice, nationalist MPs, nick clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Parliamentary Commission for Standards, Peter Mandelson, Plaid Cymru, resignation, secret, SNP